A Spokane County jury ruled Friday that Robert L. Doney Jr. was guilty of more than murder when he beat his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter to death last December because he was angry with the girlfriend.
The verdict opens the door for Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque to give Doney as much as life in prison when he sentences the 30-year-old defendant in October. Otherwise, the 260-pound Doney could have gotten no more than 27 1/2 years for killing 30-pound Victoria Ramon.
During his first trial in March, Doney pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in an attempt to take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that eliminated judges’ authority to give above-standard sentences unless a jury found aggravating circumstances. Doney’s court-appointed attorney, Tim Trageser, argued unsuccessfully that the plea prevented Leveque from asking a jury to consider aggravating circumstances.
Leveque kept the first jury in session, and it found Doney guilty of all four aggravating factors with which Doney was charged at the time: deliberate cruelty, a particularly vulnerable or defenseless victim, lack of remorse and multiple injuries. But Leveque set aside that verdict.
Leveque ruled in July that procedures he improvised for the first trial – before the Legislature fixed Washington’s sentencing law – may have hampered Trageser’s ability to screen potential jurors. Some procedures were still undecided when the trial began, and Trageser might have asked potential jurors different questions if he had known ahead of time that the jury would decide aggravating factors, Leveque decided in retrospect.
Before the new jury was selected, Leveque removed multiple injuries from the list of alleged aggravating factors. Changes in state law since March made that charge questionable unless the injuries were economic, he said.
After nearly a week of testimony and a day of deliberation, the jury found Doney guilty of deliberate cruelty and of choosing a victim who was “particularly vulnerable or incapable of resistance.” Jurors were deadlocked on whether Doney showed “egregious lack of remorse” by humming and whistling nonchalantly after he was caught.
It made no difference: Only one finding is required for an above-standard sentence.
Throughout Doney’s trials, his relatives made a ritual of calling out “Love you, Bobby,” each time he was led out of the courtroom. On Friday, it was he who spoke.
“I love you guys,” Doney said. “It’s OK.”
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