A Pierce County judge on Friday said a Bonney Lake man’s claims he was the victim of domestic violence were not corroborated by the facts and handed him a high-end prison sentence for killing his live-in girlfriend and burning her remains in a barrel.
Superior Court Judge Katherine Stolz sentenced Mthulisi Ndlovu to 20 years, four months in the death of Mary Mushapaidzi.
Ndlovu, 39, pleaded guilty earlier this month to second-degree murder for beating Mushapaidzi with one of the handles from a disassembled set of pruning shears and then burning her body the night of Oct. 8, 2011. The two reportedly had argued before the killing.
Ndlovu’s lawyer, Helen Whitener, argued her client deserved a low-end sentence because he says he was emotionally and physically abused by Mushapaidzi, 42.
A board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner hired by Whitener also said Ndlovu suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing atrocities in his native Zimbabwe. April Gerlock, who spoke with Ndlovu extensively while he sat in jail awaiting trial, painted Mushapaidzi as controlling and abusive in a report filed with the court.
Friends of Ndlovu and Mushapaidzi told a different story in court and in letters to the judge, calling Mushapaidzi a loving mother, attentive friend and hard worker, deputy prosecutor Fred Wist said. Mushapaidzi was the mother of three children, including Ndlovu’s young daughter.
Cynthia Reich worked with Mushapaidzi, also a Zimbabwe native, at a Payless shoe store in Tacoma. Her letter was typical of those sent in on Mushapaidzi’s behalf.
Reich wrote that her friend and co-worker came to the United States to try to find a better life for her family and worked and went to school to achieve that goal.
“Mary taught me strength and courage,” Reich said. “The more time I spent with Mary, the more I looked up to her. The thought of her would put a smile on my face and still does.”
Wist wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Ndlovu “developed an elaborate version of events claiming self-defense that is not supported by the evidence.”
The deputy prosecutor said Ndlovu deserved the high-end sentence for “the brutal means used by defendant to take Mary’s life.”