Any of 17 wounds in Mary “Cookie” Birnel’s body could have killed her, a Spokane County prosecutor told a jury Wednesday.
“Eight of the stab wounds were to the target area, (near) the heart,” Deputy Prosecutor Dannette Allen said during opening arguments in the second-degree murder trial of Birnel’s estranged husband.
In all, Cookie Birnel - a mother of four who was so hooked on methamphetamines that she ate and slept little - was stabbed 31 times with a butcher knife while fighting with Thomas “Rick” Birnel.
Rick Birnel suffered one cut severe enough to require stitches during the March 30 fight.
Allen acknowledged it was Cookie Birnel who started the fight by threatening her husband with the knife, and that she once attacked another lover with an ax.
But “the defendant’s response (to his wife’s attack) far exceeded any necessity for self-defense,” she said.
Pictures viewed by the Spokane County Superior Court jury showed a bloody scene at the home where Cookie Birnel lived with the couple’s two children, two of her children from a prior relationship, and some teenage friends.
Cookie Birnel’s sister sobbed in the back of Judge Kathleen O’Connor’s courtroom, and some jurors winced at the most gruesome photograph.
The jury also saw the knife a medical examiner jerked from Cookie Birnel’s chest during an autopsy. Its foot-long blade and wood handle were stained with blood.
Angry that he controlled her finances, Cookie Birnel meant to use the knife on her husband when she got home about midnight, said defense attorney John Rodgers.
An autopsy showed she was high on methamphetamines when she died.
Rick Birnel was spending the night at the split-level house at 4708 N. Haye, as he often did when his wife was out nursing an increasingly serious drug habit, Rodgers said. He went through her purse, found methamphetamines, and confronted her about her drug use.
That’s when Cookie Birnel disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared with the knife.
“She said, ‘You’ve pushed me too far,”’ said Rodgers.
“We don’t know what happened, probably never will,” Rodgers said. “We know it probably happened fast.”
Lisa Birnel, who turned 10 that day, awoke during the fight and was the only witness. She may be called to testify today.
“Lisa Birnel will tell you that she saw them struggling, that her father was on top, that her mother was stabbed through the heart,” said Allen.
Darla Thoeny, Cookie Birnel’s housekeeper and a close friend, testified that Birnel lavished gifts on her friends and family.
“She was probably one of the most giving people I’ve ever met,” said Thoeny, interrupting her testimony to wipe away tears. “If it was hers to give and you needed it, it was yours.”