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Friday, February 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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He turned to heroin for his combat injuries. Now he’s sentenced for a Tacoma murder.

In this screen grab, Pierce County Superior Court Judge John Hickman speaks Friday, June 27, 2018, at the sentencing of Donald Bango. (Alexis Krell / News Tribune)
In this screen grab, Pierce County Superior Court Judge John Hickman speaks Friday, June 27, 2018, at the sentencing of Donald Bango. (Alexis Krell / News Tribune)

The last text message Steve Shaw sent to his son was hopeful.

“Hi son, just wanted to say how much I love you, but like I’ve said before you have to fight your own demons,” he wrote 33-year-old Jeffrey Shaw.

He told his son he had great potential, and that he wanted him to find “all the happiness that this world has to offer.”

Two days later, the younger Shaw was fatally shot during a Tacoma heroin deal that went awry.

Steve Shaw read the text message in court Friday, before his son’s killer, 41-year-old Donald William Bango, was sentenced.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge John Hickman gave Bango a mid-range sentence of 21 years, eight months in prison.

“Jeffrey Shaw was a drug addict,” deputy prosecutor Heather de Maine told the court. “He engaged in a very dangerous lifestyle.”

But whatever his choices, they shouldn’t have cost Shaw his life, she said.

“What cost him his life was Mr. Bango’s decisions,” de Maine said.

Jurors convicted Bango last year of second-degree murder and criminal impersonation in connection with the Dec. 13, 2015, shooting. They also found him guilty of tampering with a witness when he tried to keep someone from testifying about it.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Bango killed Shaw while trying to rob him outside a convenience store in the 3700 block of North Pearl Street, where they had agreed to meet so Shaw could sell Bango heroin.

Bango argued that the shooting was in self-defense.

His family told the court that Bango — a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with 16 years of military service — turned to street drugs after he ran out of pain killers for his combat injuries.

During the drug deal with Shaw, Bango flashed a badge from when he worked as a juvenile corrections officer. Shaw and his friends tried to drive away, and Bango fired. Shaw died just after arriving at a local hospital.

His father told the court the loss has been hard for the family, especially for Jeffrey Shaw’s 14-year-old son.

“I believe that Donald Bango had a choice,” Steve Shaw said. “He could have walked away.”

Jeanne Griffin, the victim’s mother, told the court she misses her son to the point that some days she can’t function.

“I just want him to come through the door and say: ‘Mom, will you make me a tuna sandwich?’” she said.

As for Bango, she said she had seen no remorse.

Bango’s 19-year-old son, who shares his name, told the court his dad had been a supportive father who helped make it possible for him to go to college.

“I could see the exhaustion on his face, after working long days, rushing to take me to (sports) practices,” Bango Jr. told the judge.

He said he worries that his younger siblings, ages 6 and 10, won’t get that kind of support while their father is in prison.

Defense attorney Robert Quillian told the court that Bango was honorably discharged from the military for medical reasons, and has no criminal history.

Bango himself apologized to the Shaw family in court, and said he was remorseful.

“Poor decisions led to Mr. Shaw and myself meeting that night,” he said.

Before delivering the sentence, Hickman said of Jeffrey Shaw: “Addiction is a disease, and I wish I had gotten a hold of him first, in order to do something about that disease, but that wasn’t in the cards. … His life matters, no matter what the circumstances of his death.”

He told Bango’s family he didn’t doubt what they said, but that he doesn’t know the Donald Bango they described.

“The Mr. Bango that presented himself during the trial showed up at a 7-Eleven parking lot late at night in order to deal drugs,” the judge said. “He was armed with a pistol, and he had more weapons in the car.”

Hickman also took a moment to address Bango Jr., saying, “You’ve obviously made your parents proud.”

Of the elder Bango, he said: “You didn’t make those choices, he did.”

Only Bango, the judge said, knows why.

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