The man who beat Melissa Wageman to death with a steel pipe nine years ago pleaded guilty again Friday and was sent back to prison to finish the 17-year sentence he got in March 1996.
Danial Caleb Peters, 31, claimed when he was arrested in 1995 that his gay lover killed Wageman in a jealous rage. Peters later admitted killing Wageman himself and pleaded guilty to second-degree felony murder.
Peters’ conviction and scores of others were overturned by the state Supreme Court last November on grounds that the second-degree felony murder law was defective.
The law, subsequently amended, didn’t list assault as one of the felonies that could lead to a second-degree murder charge if a victim were killed.
On Friday, Peters pleaded guilty to standard second-degree murder.
Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz asked only that Superior Judge Linda Tompkins sentence Peters within his standard range of almost 13 years to slightly more than 17 years.
Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey Compton sought the minimum, arguing that Peters has done his best to rehabilitate himself in prison.
Compton claimed Peters was physically and sexually abused by his biological parents and several foster parents. Steinmetz said Peters’ convictions included second-degree incest as a juvenile.
Peters now has a wife and a 9-year-old daughter who regularly visit him at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, Compton said.
“I think that is what he is living for during his period of incarceration,” Compton said.
Wageman’s murder “was in a haze of drugs,” but Peters didn’t want to put her friends and relatives through a trial in hopes of more lenient treatment, Compton said.
“He knows he’s got a debt to pay, and he’s been paying it,” Compton said.
He said Peters “sponsors” seven children on Indian reservations and 16 residents of a nursing home, sending them Christmas gifts and other services.
“I’ve done everything,” the defendant said. “I’ve tried my hardest. It’s not been easy, but I have tried.”
Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins called it “a good first step,” but said the “gravity of the offense” still demands a maximum sentence.
Court records, which Peters said are accurate, indicate he bludgeoned Wageman over and over with a 4-foot-long pipe in the home of his 65-year-old gay benefactor, Robert Katke.
Katke, who had advanced AIDS, allowed Peters to move into his home near the corner of Division and Glass.
Wageman, whom Peters met at the nearby Happy Time Tavern, was celebrating her 40th birthday when she accompanied the 22-year-old Peters to the basement of Katke’s home. Peters told police he had sold drugs to Wageman in the past, and they were smoking crack cocaine and marijuana when he killed her.
Katke told police Peters forced him to help clean the blood-splattered basement. Then Peters put Wageman’s body in the back of Katke’s pickup and drove to a friend’s house in Stevens County about nine miles south of Chewelah.
The friend reported the crime to the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office.
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