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Crossbow killer gets 36 years to life

MONDAY, SEPT. 12, 2011, 11:55 A.M.

Crossbow killer Cole K. Strandberg received what essentially will be a life sentence today after pleading guilty to the brutal slaying of a Spokane woman in 2008.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen sentenced Strandberg, 26, to more than 36 years in prison at a minimum. Upon the completion of that sentence, Strandberg’s case will be considered by the state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board.

“This is a horrible situation,” said Eitzen, who said the case was one of the worst she’s seen in 18 years on the bench. “I can’t help but feel the pain on both sides. My heart breaks for all of you.”

Strandberg killed 22-year-old Jennifer Bergeron by shooting her in the head with a crossbow on Jan. 7, 2008. Investigators also found evidence that he had sexually assaulted Bergeron during the crime.

According to expert testimony, Strandberg suffers from early-onset paranoid schizophrenia that results in delusions. One delusion is that he receives orders to kill from an imaginary drill sergeant named Smokey Kaiser.

Strandberg had told a counselor with Spokane Mental Health about thoughts of killing someone with a crossbow, but mental health officials never acted on that information, both defense and prosecuting attorneys said.

“The tragedy here is unspeakable,” Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla said. “Spokane Mental Health had an opportunity to stop this and they didn’t.”

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee said his client has benefited from receiving proper medications, but said treatment advances must be made before his client could be released.

“With today’s technology, I’m not sure we will ever see his release,” Bugbee said.

He added, “the failure of the mental health system has affected so many people… Eastern State Hospital refused to medicate him. They concluded he had no mental health issue or defect, which is appalling based on what is in the record.”

Bergeron’s mother, Victoria Huizar, of Houston Texas, read a letter from what she thought her daughter would say. After the hearing, she, too, criticized the mental health system.

“I’m appalled they knew about it and didn’t stop it,” Huizar said. “She’s always going to be in my heart. That’s never going to change. She was so beautiful. She would have had a wonderful life.”

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