Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 71° Clear
News >  Spokane

Killer’s sentence may rest with jury

For the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Washington’s criminal sentencing law is broken, a Spokane County Superior Court judge has devised a repair.

Judge Jerome Leveque on Thursday allowed a jury to consider whether Robert L. Doney Jr.’s premeditated murder of 2-year-old Victoria Ramon involved aggravating circumstances warranting above-standard punishment.

The Supreme Court ruled last June that defendants are constitutionally entitled to have juries decide any facts used to justify above-standard sentences. Washington’s sentencing law previously allowed judges to determine aggravating factors.

With part of the sentencing law invalidated, Leveque and four other Spokane County judges have ruled in seven high-profile cases that they lacked authority to impanel juries for sentencing purposes.

In two of those cases, Leveque objected because the prosecutor’s office didn’t allege aggravating factors in charging documents. Both of those cases involved rapes.

Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald argued unsuccessfully that rape sentencings weren’t subject to the Supreme Court ruling because they are governed by a different, though similar, law.

Other cases in which local judges declined to consider above-standard sentences were adjudicated before Oct. 25, when a division of the Washington Court of Appeals ruled judges have authority to fashion a remedy.

The Court of Appeals said the Supreme Court struck down only a procedure, not the Legislature’s intent that perpetrators of egregious crimes should be subject to above-standard punishment.

Leveque said Thursday that a key issue for him was that defendants should be told in charging documents that an above-standard sentence is being sought.

Before Doney’s trial got started, Leveque allowed Prosecutor Steve Tucker and Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmentz to amend the charges by adding four aggravating factors: deliberate cruelty, a particularly vulnerable victim, lack of remorse and multiple injuries.

Doney pleaded guilty Wednesday to first-degree murder before Steinmentz and Tucker could complete their case. The jury that was to have decided whether Doney committed the murder now will decide whether he is guilty of any of the alleged aggravating factors.

When the jurors were called back Thursday, Steinmetz showed them a photo of Victoria Ramon taken before Dec. 26, 2003, when Doney battered her to death because he was angry at her mother, Joan Richards.

Doney lived with Richards in her apartment at 1412 W. Dean, and had a violent argument with her on the evening before he killed her daughter. Doney had torn the telephone cord out of the wall, so Richards went to a neighbor’s apartment to call police when the argument resumed the next morning.

Richards and neighbors testified that Doney yelled that he was going to kill Richards’ daughter and that he boasted he had done so as he fled.

Steinmetz reminded jurors about testimony that Doney had used a vulgar ethnic slur against the little girl, whom he resented because of her Hispanic heritage.

Steinmentz also noted that, while Doney admitted slamming the child into a door frame, Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aitken testified that the victim suffered at least four major blows.

Over defense attorney Tim Trageser’s objections, jurors heard testimony Thursday that they didn’t get to hear before Doney pleaded guilty.

Three Spokane police officers testified that Doney hummed nonchalantly after his arrest. They called it “disturbing,” “mind-boggling” and “creepy.”

Officers said Doney hummed in a patrol car and at Deaconess Medical Center, where he was treated for self-inflicted knife wounds and bites by a police dog.

Jurors will begin their deliberations today.

If they find even one of the alleged aggravating factors applies to Doney’s crime, Leveque could exceed the standard sentencing range of 203/4 to 271/2 years in prison. The judge could impose any sentence up to life in prison.

Trageser conceded the jury inevitably must find the ailing, 3-foot-tall, 30-pound toddler was especially vulnerable to the 5-foot-11, 260-pound, 29-year-old Doney. But he asked jurors to reject the other alleged aggravating factors.

Trageser wanted to present a court transcript of Doney’s written and verbal expressions of remorse. Steinmentz called those remarks “self-serving,” and said remorse a year and four months after the crime doesn’t count for sentencing purposes.

Leveque ruled Doney would have to take the stand and subject himself to cross-examination if he wanted to express remorse to the jury. Doney declined.

Trageser had wanted to postpone Thursday’s testimony – if he couldn’t prevent it altogether – so he could obtain a psychological evaluation in hopes of showing mitigating factors.

Leveque denied the continuance, but said Trageser may present mitigating factors when Doney is sentenced. Last summer’s Supreme Court ruling doesn’t prevent judges from giving below-standard sentences, Leveque said.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.