Clutching a framed photograph of Tina Stewart to his chest, Don Estus struggled to put into words just how much she meant to him.
“Our lives will never be the same,” he said of the woman he considered his niece.
Surrounded by family members on the steps of the Spokane County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, Estus said “We can’t celebrate Thanksgiving again. Not like the way we did.”
Just minutes before, the dozens of family members and others close to Stewart, who was found dead Friday morning, watched as the man accused of killing her appeared in court via video conferencing.
Nicholas Holden, 29, is accused of beating Stewart to death Thanksgiving night during an argument at his father’s home in Newman Lake.
Holden called 911 Friday morning, reporting that his girlfriend was cold to the touch and unresponsive due to an “unknown medical issue,” Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies wrote in an affidavit. He later confessed to striking her multiple times in the face and kicking her while she was on the ground. He told police he discovered she was dead more than eight hours after the argument.
Dressed in red, his hand still bandaged from compound fractures he sustained Thanksgiving night, the 29-year-old appeared teary-eyed and remorseful as a judge set his bond at $1 million on a charge of second-degree murder.
Stewart’s family scoffed at the defense attorney’s request to have bail lowered to $50,000. Speaking on behalf of others, Andrew Estus, the father of her two children, told District Court Judge Richard Leland that it was an open secret amongst friends and family who knew the couple that Holden was abusive in the past.
“He knew what he was doing,” he said. “He took my kids’ mom away from them. My kids are devastated.”
According to court documents, the couple of two years were staying at Holden’s father’s house in the 14000 block of North Meadow Lane in Newman Lake for Thanksgiving. The homeowner told deputies he convinced Holden and Stewart to stay over that night because his son had been drinking.
Holden, in an interview with sheriff’s deputies, said that after his father went to sleep at around 11 p.m., the two immediately began arguing. He said the argument moved throughout all three levels of the home, and ended in the basement, where he said Stewart threatened him with a knife.
There, he told deputies he shoved her on the ground. Holden, who weighs about 170 pounds to Stewart’s 100, according the court documents, “kicked her multiple times, and punched her multiple times in the face during their fight,” deputies wrote in court documents.
Holden then said the two “passed out together” on the basement floor. He told deputies he woke up at about 4 a.m. and found Stewart with blood and vomit coming from her mouth and nose, and that she was “cool to the touch and unresponsive.” He cleaned her up and then went back to sleep. He told deputies he did this again at 6 a.m.
At about 8 a.m., he woke up and found she was still cold to the touch. He told deputies he “started panicking” and called his mother before calling 911.
Holden’s father told deputies he found the 30-year-old woman at about 8:30 a.m., her face and body covered in bruises. The man reportedly told first responders that her condition made it clear that the two had fought.
Deputies noted “obvious injuries” to Stewart’s body, including bruises covering the majority of her face, swollen cheeks, and bruising on her chest and stomach.
Holden was taken to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center before going to jail, where he was treated for a fractured bone in his right hand, deputies wrote. A search warrant was written for Holden’s person, where deputies noted extremely swollen knuckles, “consistent with punching someone or something with a large amount of force.”
At the court house, Stewart’s family said her tight-knit network of family and friends was devastated, especially the children she worked with at a local daycare. They said they plan to release balloons sometime Saturday in her memory.
But more than anything, they pleaded with the community to recognize domestic violence when they see it.
“If you see a sign, you should speak up,” her brother said, eyes wet with tears. “I love her.”
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