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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Defendant admits he killed child


Robert L. Doney Jr., 29, waits during a morning break Wednesday for his first-degree murder trial to resume. He pleaded guilty to killing 2-year-old Victoria Ramon. 
 (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Robert L. Doney Jr., 29, waits during a morning break Wednesday for his first-degree murder trial to resume. He pleaded guilty to killing 2-year-old Victoria Ramon. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

After three days of testimony in his first-degree murder trial, Robert L. Doney Jr. admitted Wednesday that he killed his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter.

He pleaded guilty as charged without receiving any concessions.

The plea set the stage for locally unprecedented court action today that could lead to an above-standard sentence.

Doney, 29, admitted Wednesday that he murdered toddler Victoria Ramon on Dec. 26, 2003, by shoving her into a door frame of the apartment at 1412 W. Dean he shared with her mother, 36-year-old Joan Richards.

Previously, Doney had tried to blame the crime on Richards.

Doney said in a written statement that he became enraged while arguing with Richards and directed his anger at her child, “which is unforgivable. I will accept and deserve to be punished.”

Doney verbally apologized for the “grief and pain” he caused Richards and her family.

“The only thing I can do is to admit to the family that I did it and hope they can partly heal,” Doney said as Richards sobbed convulsively.

He also apologized to his own relatives, several of whom also wept.

Doney faces a standard sentencing range of 20 3/4 to 27 1/2 years in prison, but Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he will seek an above-standard sentence.

To win an exceptional sentence, Tucker and Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz first will have to persuade Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque this morning to bring back the trial jury for a special session this afternoon.

If Leveque agrees, it will be the first time any Spokane County judge has done so since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of Washington’s sentencing guideline law last June.

The Supreme Court said defendants are entitled to have juries determine all facts used to justify an above-standard sentence. Leveque and several other local judges so far have said they lack authority to impanel juries to consider aggravating circumstances, such as deliberate cruelty or a victim’s vulnerability.

In this case, though, Leveque allowed Tucker to amend the charges before trial to include aggravating factors. He is keeping the trial jury on standby while he decides whether to let Tucker proceed.

Defense attorney Tim Trageser said he will argue that Leveque has no authority to retain the jury now that Doney has pleaded guilty.

Tucker and Steinmetz noted that two divisions of the Washington Court of Appeals have said judges have authority to impanel special juries if necessary. The third division of the appellate court, based in Spokane, has taken no position.

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