News

Through the tears, admitted killer of officer sentenced

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Jason S. Roberts apologized last week to the family of the Federal Way Police officer he killed two years ago but couldn’t face them, saying he isn’t “man enough to look at you.”

Roberts, 30, was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison by King County Superior Court Judge Michael Fox for shooting Patrick Maher with the officer’s .handgun on Aug. 2, 2003. Maher died later that day.

For Renee Maher, the slain officer’s widow, the sentence was little comfort. She had asked Fox to give Roberts the stiffest penalty allowed by the law for a first-degree murder conviction. After the court recessed, Maher said Fox was a “coward.”

“The defendant showed more courage than the judge,” she told reporters.

Roberts has been in jail since being charged in 2003 with the crime and will get credit for the time he has served, said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng.

Roberts won’t have the chance for parole, but can get up to 10 percent of his sentence taken off for good behavior, Donohoe added.

Prosecutors had asked Fox to sentence Roberts to more than 31 years. Initially, they charged him with aggravated first-degree murder –– a life sentence. Almost seven months later, Maleng decided not to seek the death penalty because there were enough mitigating circumstances in the case. Then prosecutors and the defendant’s attorneys came to a plea agreement of first-degree murder. In October, Roberts pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder charge before his trial began.

Cheryl Swan, senior deputy prosecutor, said she was disappointed with the sentence given by Fox.

“I think (Roberts) deserves a high-end sentence,” she said, noting he had a prior criminal history that included running from law enforcement and that the murder victim was a police officer.

Fox explained his reasoning before giving the sentence. While the murder was “rash, impulsive and sudden,” there was no question Maher was killed by a premeditated act and Roberts admitted his crime was premeditated. However, he didn’t set out that day to kill anyone and wasn’t armed at the time Maher first contacted him, Fox said.

Roberts’ attorneys had requested a sentence of 25 years, saying he regretted Maher’s death.

“He knew it the moment the shot rang out,” said defense attorney Kevin Dolan.

More than 100 people were in the courtroom last Friday, including chief Anne Kirkpatrick and several officers from the Federal Way Police Department, Maher’s family and friends and Roberts’ family. Many dabbed their eyes with tissue when Maher’s family members, Kirkpatrick and others spoke to the court.

“Today isn’t my day to honor (Patrick Maher), but your day,” Renee Maher told Fox.

She said her husband was a hero to her, her son, his family and to many people in the courtroom.

“All of us are the community that Patrick served,” she said.

Maher discounted Roberts’ plea agreement, saying it wasn’t done to spare her or her family a jury trial but to save himself.

“Give me a break,” she said.

Addressing Roberts, she asked him if he thought what could have happened if he hadn’t run from her husband that August day two years ago. “You would have gone home and so would have Patrick,” she said.

Patrick Maher, 46, was on duty and at a convenience store on Pacific Highway South when he witnessed a fight between Roberts and his brother. Family members later told investigators Roberts had been stealing from them to finance his drug addiction. The brother, Roberts’ father and the brother’s girlfriend confronted Roberts at the convenience store.

Maher broke up the fight, but Roberts fled the scene. His brother and Maher chased him across the street, where a second scuffle ensued. As Maher tried to handcuff Roberts, he reached for the officer’s gun, authorities said. It went off and hit Maher below his body armor.

Theresa Maher, one of Patrick Maher’s sisters and a Catholic nun, told Fox she was one of the few people left who knew her brother all his life.

“You will meet Pat only through us,” she said.

Jim Nelson served with Maher at the Honolulu, Hawaii Police Department before Maher came to Federal Way. Nelson is now with the Federal Way force and was there when Maher died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Nelson, speaking to the court, described Maher as a friend with character “to the core.” He remembered kissing his friend on the forehead after he died and noticing Maher was still warm.

“They don’t teach you that at the (police) academy,” Nelson said.

He also noted that Roberts had “soiled” his family’s legacy.

He asked Fox to sentence Roberts to the maximum time in prison because he had already been given several breaks.

When Kirkpatrick spoke, she said it was difficult to share her grief.

“That’s personal and very private to me,” she said with a trembling voice. “In no way will I apologize for my tears.”

The most moving comments came from Maher’s daughter, Amanda Maher, from his first marriage.

“Any time I think about him I cry and cry,” she said through tears and with her fiance comforting her. “I don’t think it’s fair I have to stand here” to prove why Roberts should be sentenced. “He did a bad thing.”

Several months after her father was killed, Maher said, her older brother was killed in a car accident. She plans to marry in February. “My dad won’t be there. My brother won’t be there,” she said.

“I can’t ever talk to him again and, I can’t ever see him again,” she said of her father. “I miss him so much.”

Roberts’ family didn’t speak to the court or to reporters outside the courtroom.

Wearing red prison clothes, Roberts tearfully apologized for his crime.

“There’s not a day I don’t regret it,” he said. “I made a stupid, stupid mistake.”

Roberts acknowledged he “ruined peoples’ lives. I could say sorry a thousand times, but it wouldn’t mean nothing.”

As the courtroom emptied, Kirpatrick said officers would spend the day with Maher’s family. Kirkpatrick said she accepted the sentence but understood Renee Maher’s displeasure over the outcome.

Maher, when asked what she would tell her son about the day, said she wouldn’t tell him anything unless he asked. Earlier, she told Fox that her son was finally able to sleep in his own room.

“He is trying his best to be a normal little boy,” she said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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