A judge found no mercy Friday for the “dangerous” woman convicted of ordering the beating that caused the death of a 32-year-old Bret R. Snow, whose battered body has never been found.
Superior Court Judge Raymond Clary sentenced Cheryl L. Sutton, 39, to serve about 31 years in prison after a jury convicted her on March 1 of first-degree murder in connection to the death of Snow. Sutton was also sentenced to eight years for leading organized crime, but that sentence will run at the same time as the murder sentence.
“It’s never easy to impose the sentence on another human being,” Clary told Sutton. “It is my abiding sense that you were in charge over those men. I think you are dangerous. I think there is a lot more you could tell law enforcement that could ease the family’s pain.”
Sutton was the first to be convicted of four persons charged in connection with Snow’s disappearance and suspected death. Colby D. Vodder, 28, went to trial last October, but the jury acquitted him on kidnapping charges. They could not reach a decision on first-degree murder and his second trial is scheduled for later this year.
Also charged in the killing are Kenneth L. Stone, 35, who was Sutton’s longtime boyfriend, and 54-year-old Alvaro Guajardo. Both are also scheduled for trial later this year.
The murder investigation began when Snow’s mother contacted Spokane Valley Police on Dec. 15, 2015, to report Snow missing.
He was last seen on Dec. 2, 2015, when a friend gave him a ride to 7822 N. Starr Road in Newman Lake. That address was later determined to be the home of Sutton and Stone.
Court records state that detectives found blood and hair in a backyard workshop at the North Starr Road home. Tests showed that the blood was Snow’s, according to court documents.
Witnesses testified at Sutton’s trial that Vodder and Guajardo admitted to killing Snow and hiding his body after Snow botched a drug deal in which Snow accepted a trade instead of cash. The deal angered Sutton and Stone, according to prosecutors, who claimed that the couple instructed Vodder and Guajardo to kill Snow.
On Friday, Snow’s close family friend, Katherine Lowry, was chosen to speak on behalf of the victim’s family.
“It was hard for the family to watch you laughing and joking” during the trial, Lowry said to Sutton. “You took a life for $80. Bret, like many, made some bad choices in the drug world. Bret was a person who would do anything for anyone if he could.”
As Lowry spoke, Sutton pursed her lips and rocked back and forth in her chair. Lowry continued, saying that despite any problems Snow had, he always had the love of his family.
“We ask that you tell us where Bret is,” Lowry said. “We have not been able to give him a proper burial. You destroyed a family beyond comprehension.”
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Dale Nagy said the evidence showed that Sutton was in charge of the group of men charged with Snow’s killing.
“She led the effort to kidnap him that particular evening,” Nagy said. “He was killed as a result of that kidnapping.”
Given the opportunity, Sutton declined to make a statement. She had her defense attorney, Jeremy Schmidt, speak on her behalf.
“Obviously, as the court heard, we disagree very much that Ms. Sutton was the lead of anything,” Schmidt said.
He said that his client, who is a mother, started using drugs at age 18 and began selling drugs to support her habit.
“Nothing can make Mr. Snow appear for his family,” Schmidt said. “I hope on some level this gives you some peace.”
Schmidt, who unsuccessfully sought a mistrial on Thursday, asked Clary to give his client a sentence below the standard range. But the judge said he was “obligated to protect the public.
“There is nothing more profound than the taking of a person’s life,” Clary said. “That weighs toward a very serious sentence.”