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Man who beat toddler to death appeals 35-year sentence

Murderer says term too harsh

Some 6  1/2 years after Robert Doney bludgeoned a 2-year-old Spokane girl as her mother pleaded for her life, the convicted murderer appeared in court to argue that a judge erred in giving him a 35-year prison term.

Doney, 35, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder just days into his 2005 trial. With his plea, he admitted killing 2-year-old Victoria Ramon the day after Christmas 2003 inside an apartment at 1412 W. Dean Ave. The 30-pound girl had a crushed skull, a lacerated liver and wounds over her entire body, according to court testimony.

Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque on Oct. 12, 2005, sentenced Doney to 35 years in prison, which was more than seven years above the standard range for first-degree murder. Doney appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court ruled that a new jury should decide whether Doney exhibited deliberate cruelty to a particularly vulnerable victim, which would justify the longer prison term.

Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz told a Spokane jury Tuesday that Doney was arguing with the girl’s mother, Joan Richards, and that Richards left the apartment that night in 2003.

Doney threatened to kill the girl and Richards ran back, but the door was locked. “She heard the little girl screaming and crying and yelling,” Steinmetz said.

Neighbors came to help and then “heard the screaming and yelling stop. They see the defendant walk outside and say to Richards, ‘She’s not your girl anymore.’ ”

Doney’s attorney, Senit Lutgen, acknowledged that his client admitted killing Ramon but asked the jury not to get caught up in the emotion of the testimony.

“There is no doubt what happened was a tragedy. But there is another side to this case,” he said.

Lutgen said that Doney and Richards were living in the small, dirty apartment on West Dean where they both abused alcohol and drugs. He said fights were common.

But on the night in question, Doney was angry at Richards because she was using drugs while she was pregnant.

“There will be evidence brought forth that Ms. Richards was involved” in the killing, Lutgen said. “There is abuse in this house and it likely did not come from Mr. Doney.”

He asked the jury to consider the evidence before deciding the case.

“It’s emotional. I’m not asking you to be computers,” Lutgen said. “We intend to handle this matter with the utmost respect. But understand there are two sides to a story. Hear them both. What we are doing here is not revenge. It’s justice.”