That Mthulisi Ndlovu killed Mary Mushapaidzi in their Bonney Lake home last fall is not in dispute.
Ndlovu, 39, admitted as much in Pierce County Superior Court on Friday, pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
Why he did it is likely to be an issue at his Aug. 24 sentencing.
Ndlovu’s lawyer, Helen Whitener, intends to argue for a low-end sentence of just more than 12 years in prison, contending her client was physically and emotionally abused by Mushapaidzi during their relationship.
A board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner who examined Ndlovu on Whitener’s behalf says in a report the defendant shows classic signs of being an abuse victim and most likely suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing atrocities as a child during upheaval in his native Zimbabwe.
“I believe him to be the primary victim of ongoing intimate partner violence,” April Gerlock wrote. “No one reports efforts on his part to control or coerce Mary. On the contrary, Mary is described as controlling of him.”
Ndlovu told Gerlock that while in Zimbabwe he saw dead bodies in his school yard and watched his aunt being raped and beheaded, the report states.
Deputy prosecutor Fred Wist told The News Tribune he would ask for a high-end sentence of 20 years, four months for Ndlovu, who repeatedly hit Mushapaidzi in the head with one of the handles from a disassembled set of pruning shears before burning her remains in a barrel.
Wist said Ndlovu’s history, even if it can be believed, does little to mitigate his actions on the night of Oct. 8.
“It’s all out of the mouth of the defendant,” the deputy prosecutor said. “I don’t know how much weight to put into it. It doesn’t rise to the level of a defense.”
Mushapaidzi, 42, also a native of Zimbabwe, was a well-liked manager with Payless shoe stores in the Tacoma area and the mother of two children, including Ndlovu’s daughter. Both kids were home the night she died but did not see their mother’s killing.
Ndlovu went to work after killing his girlfriend and then drove to the Bonney Lake police station to report her missing. Officers who came to the house with him noticed the smell of burning plastic and found Mushapaidzi’s burned remains in the garage.
He told police the two had argued over his not washing some dirty dishes before Mushapaidzi hit him in the face with her purse, sending him into a rage, charging papers state. Ndlovu later told Gerlock he thought Mushapaidzi would kill him and his daughter that night with a gun she kept in her purse.
Mushapaidzi kicked him in the testicles and shocked him with a stun gun before he picked up the pruning sheers handle and hit her repeatedly in the head, Ndlovu told Gerlock.
“… when the gun came out of her purse, and he believed her hand was on the gun, he fought for his life,” Gerlock wrote.
Ndlovu said he later discarded the gun and stun gun because, “I didn’t want anyone to think the mother of my child was a criminal,” he told Gerlock.
There are no reports to authorities of domestic violence by Ndlovu or Mushapaidzi, and friends of the couple interviewed by Gerlock said they never saw or heard of them being violent to each other.
Ndlovu told Gerlock he was afraid to report that his girlfriend was abusing him – he didn’t think he’d be believed – and he also was scared to leave her.
Mushapaidzi made more money than he did and likely would have tried to get custody of their daughter had he tried to leave, he told Gerlock.
“Leaving Mary was not an option,” he told her.