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Prison for at least 20 years for officer's killer
By MIKE HALLIDAY
The man charged with shooting Federal Way Police officer Patrick Maher to death pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in King County Superior Court last Friday morning.
With relatives of the victim and the accused in the gallery along with Federal Way Police officers and reporters, Jason Roberts entered his plea more than two years after Mahers death.
Roberts will serve a minimum of 20 years in prison, but prosecutors told Judge Michael Fox theyre seeking a sentence of more than 31 years.
Roberts also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of using a handgun to murder Maher.
Sentencing will take place Dec. 9.
On Aug. 2, 2003, Roberts shot Maher, 46, after taking the officers gun from its holster during a struggle. The single bullet struck Maher beneath his body armor. He died at the hospital later that day.
Mahers widow, Renee, and his daughter, Amanda, were in the courtrooms first row of seats. Roberts parents sat behind them. A group of Federal Way Police officers sat at one end. Their chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, sat between Renee and Amanda.
King County jail guards and sheriff deputies escorted Roberts into the courtroom in handcuffs. The 30-year-old defendant was wearing a purple dress shirt, sweater and brown corduroy pants. During the hearing, he kept his hands behind his back with a tissue, occasionally using it to dab his face.
Mostly what he said was simply, Yes, maam, to questions from deputy prosecutor Erin Ehlert if he understood the plea he was making.
The hearing took little more than 30 minutes. After Roberts was taken out of the courtroom, his parents left immediately and wouldnt answer reporters questions.
Kevin Dolan, one of Roberts attorneys, said his client agreed to the prosecuting attorneys offer of first-degree murder because he didnt want to drag either family through a trial.
The trial was supposed to start last Friday.
Dolan said Roberts always expressed regret for what happened and he wanted to end it with a guilty plea.
It didnt need to happen, Dolan said of Mahers death.
Attorneys for both sides acknowledged that leaving the verdict and sentence to a jury could have resulted in a decision one side or the other wouldnt have liked.
For the defense, Dolan said there was a risk a trial could lead to a guilty finding on an aggravated murder charge, which has a more serious penalty.
Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng said he and Mahers family would have been unsatisfied if a jury gave a verdict of guilty in the second degree, which carries a standard sentence of 15 to 22 years.
By Roberts accepting the plea, prosecutors relinquished a chance to try for life in prison or the death penalty.
A few days after Mahers death, Maleng announced aggravated first-degree murder and second-degree assault charges would be filed against Roberts.
In April 2004, Maleng said he wouldnt seek the death penalty because there was enough evidence to warrant leniency. Renee Maher criticized Malengs decision then, telling The Mirror, I feel angry and frustrated.
But last Friday, she said of the new arrangement, I do believe this is the best result.
She said she had to balance her wishes with those of others, including Maleng and Amanda Maher, Patrick Mahers surviving child from a previous marriage. His son, Nathan, died in a January 2004 car accident a few months after Mahers death.
Renee Maher has a young son from a previous relationship.
When asked if the guilty plea meant a new start for her, she said the day her husband was shot was a new start and she didnt have a choice.
With Roberts, plea she feels a little more peace and will have more after the sentencing, she said.
Amanda Maher thanked the Federal Way Police and the prosecutors office for their support, especially Ehlert.
Ehlert said the discussion leading to Roberts guilty plea was ongoing and didnt take place at the last moment.
Roberts attorneys told the press they will argue in December for a lighter sentence than prosecutors are recommending. While declining to get specific, Dolan said they would present evidence in an effort to persuade the judge to go with a lesser sentence.
No matter what happens, hes going to be in prison for most of his adult life, Dolan said.
On the morning of Aug. 2, 2003, Roberts brother and his girlfriend and Roberts father found him in a convenience store parking lot, where they confronted him about stealing from them. According to court documents, Roberts had been stealing from his family to support a drug habit and had assaulted his father.
Roberts and his brother started fighting in the parking lot. The brothers girlfriend asked Maher, who was at the scene on an unrelated matter, to intervene. Maher separated the brothers. While Maher was calling for backup, Roberts ran away.
According to court documents, the brother, the girlfriend and Roberts father warned Maher that Roberts had a history of running from the police. Roberts later confirmed this to investigators.
Maher and the brother chased Roberts to a fenced-in area where he was tackled by his sibling.
According to court records, while the brother was wrestling with Roberts, Maher attempted to put him in handcuffs. The officer radioed he had the suspect in custody.
According to a statement from the girlfriend, saw Roberts reach with both hands for Mahers .45 Glock pistol in its holster and pull it out. Maher and the brother tried to take the gun from Roberts. He pointed it at the girlfriend, according to her statement, and looked at her. She heard a click and thought it was from the gun and hid behind a bush. After peeking around the bush, she saw Roberts still had the gun and was pointing it at his brothers head. She was yelling for help when she heard the gun go off. She turned to see if her boyfriend had been shot and saw Maher on his back and bleeding, according to court records. Maher died that evening.
He served on the police force for seven months and previously was with the Honolulu, Hawaii Police Department and the Coast Guard.
Federal Way officials named a police training room at City Hall for Maher and placed a memorial in front of the building this summer that includes his badge.
There was a movement to name the new Sequoyah Middle School in Federal Way after Maher.
Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, firstname.lastname@example.org