January 4, 1996 in City

Mother Of Murder Victim Breaks Silence Cookie Birnel’s Family Outraged By Judge’s Lenient Sentence

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Mary MacInnes didn’t say a word when lawyers described her dead daughter as an alcoholic and a violent drug addict.

When they held up photographs of Cookie Birnel’s bloody corpse and claimed she instigated her own death by getting high and fighting with her husband, MacInnes listened silently through it all.

But the lenient sentence Thomas “Rick” Birnel received this week for stabbing his wife 31 times finally prompted MacInnes to speak up.

“I am horrified and so, so angry,” said MacInnes, 64. “I cannot believe he’s getting away with this. It’s an insult to our family, to Cookie.”

Birnel, who owns a Spokane Valley carpet store, was convicted of second-degree murder on Dec. 4. A jury didn’t buy his story that he was just defending himself when Cookie Birnel attacked him with a butcher knife.

She died with it sticking into her chest. Any one of six other stab wounds also could have been fatal, including at least one in her back, a medical expert testified.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor imposed a five-year sentence - half the minimum prison term recommended under sentencing guidelines. She based her decision on Cookie Birnel’s history of drug abuse, saying her angry outbursts contributed to the violence.

O’Connor also noted Rick Birnel’s otherwise clean criminal record and called the murder “a tragedy that could have been prevented.”

She declined to comment on the sentence Thursday because both sides are considering an appeal.

Birnel’s attorney, John Rodgers, said he doubts any sentence would have satisfied the victim’s family.

“Had he gotten 10 (years) would they wish he got 20?” Rodgers said. “I don’t know.”

MacInnes said she just wanted Birnel to pay for what he did.

After his arrest, Birnel posted bail and was released from jail until his trial. After his conviction, O’Connor allowed him to remain free for the holidays until his sentencing hearing.

Such developments angered MacInnes, but she said she kept quiet because she didn’t want to alienate her five grandchildren, who stood by Birnel’s claim that their mother’s death was an accident.

“Then the jury found him guilty and it’s like the judge let him off,” MacInnes said Wednesday from her Spokane motel room. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The victim’s brother, Fred Desjardins, called the sentence “Draconian.”

“Cookie pushed the wrong button and she paid the ultimate price,” Desjardins said Wednesday from his home in Nova Scotia.

Darla Thoeny, who was Cookie Birnel’s best friend for eight years, also was angry about the sentence.

“With this sentence, (O’Connor) is dismissing a woman who was murdered by her husband,” Thoeny said. “I can’t believe she calls herself an advocate for victims of domestic violence.”

O’Connor is one of the founding members of the YWCA Alternatives to Domestic Violence program.

Carolyn Morrison, director of the YWCA program, said she would have liked to have seen a longer sentence.

Five years, however, is still a long time behind bars, she said.

“I just hope he starts serving his time now,” Morrison said of Birnel. “I mean, since he killed his wife he’s spent like seven days in jail. It’s time to serve time.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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