Convicted of murdering his estranged wife on Monday, Thomas “Rick” Birnel was told Tuesday he can go home for the holidays - if he posts $100,000 bail.
His voice cracking, Birnel told Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor, “I’d like to be with my kids.”
Birnel’s mother-in-law, whose daughter was stabbed 31 times, also asked that he be sent home to spend Christmas with her grandchildren.
Judging that Birnel, 40, is unlikely to flee or hurt anyone else, O’Connor ruled he can go free until he is sentenced Jan. 2. He can’t leave the county.
Defense attorney John Rodgers said Birnel may not be able to raise the bail money. Testimony during last week’s trial revealed that Birnel went heavily into debt to raise money for his Spokane Valley business, Rick’s Carpets.
“One-hundred-thousand dollars is a lot of scratch,” Rodgers said.
Typically, bail bondsmen require their customers post 10 percent of the bail amount in cash. Birnel can also put up property worth $100,000.
Birnel was convicted of second-degree murder for the March 30 stabbing of Mary “Cookie” Birnel. He faces 10 to 13 years in prison.
High on methamphetamines, Cookie Birnel attacked her husband with a butcher knife in her Spokane Valley home. But she cut him only once, on the hand, while suffering 31 stab wounds herself, including eight to the chest.
The jury, which deliberated two and a half days days, didn’t buy Birnel’s explanation that he was defending himself.
During Tuesday’s court hearing, defense attorney Rodgers asked that Birnel stay out of jail prior to sentencing to help his three children and two step-children adjust to the tragedy.
The children “are closely bonded with Mr. Birnel,” Rodgers said.
A permanent guardian, probably a relative, will be appointed for the four minor children in the next couple of weeks, their court-appointed guardian said.
One possible guardian is Cookie Birnel’s mother, Mary MacInnes of Vancouver, British Columbia, who on Tuesday asked the judge to temporarily release her son-in-law.
“I’m here today because I love my grandchildren dearly and I know they would want to be with their father for Christmas,” MacInnes said. “I have no objections to that.”
Deputy Prosecutor Dannette Allen wanted Birnel kept in jail.
“This is not a custody case. This is a murder case,” Allen said.
O’Connor said she sympathized with the children but couldn’t base her decision on their interests.
“I have said all along with respect to the children that this case would be, will be and is a painful one,” the judge said. “I cannot protect them from the realities of what happened.”
In a Spokane case similar to Birnel’s, Charles Hayes was released pending an appeal of his second-degree murder conviction in 1993. He shot his wife five times in the head, then rolled her body down an embankment on the West Plains.
Hayes’ freedom ended 11 months later, when he missed a scheduled drug test - a violation of his release.