A Tacoma man originally charged with first-degree murder in the case of a woman shot on the Hilltop nearly 23 years ago pleaded guilty this week to a reduced charge.
Dontese R. White, 39, will be sentenced Sept. 21 on a count of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Kathleen Graham. Pierce County prosecutors will recommend a sentence of five years.
White entered the plea Thursday as lawyers in his case were about to begin questioning potential jurors for his trial, court records show. White long had been suspected in Graham’s death, but prosecutors didn’t charge him until October when they received new information that marked him as the shooter.
Graham, 47, died the night of Dec. 30, 1989.
Police said she was riding in a car driven by a man looking to buy drugs from White and another man. A gunshot rang out when a dispute arose over the drugs, and the man with Graham tried to drive off. Graham, a Federal Way resident, was hit in the chest.
White has denied shooting Graham and maintained that position even as he pleaded guilty in the case, blaming the murder on the other man with him that night. Police arrested and questioned that person but could never make a case against him.
“I allowed another young man from my neighborhood to carry a gun I had recently acquired,” White said in his plea paperwork. “I had no idea he would shoot someone and did not even realize Ms. Graham had been shot.”
White also apologized to Graham’s family “for the heartbreak they have suffered over these past 20-plus years.”
The conviction is White’s second strike under Washington’s “three strikes you’re out law.” He previously was convicted of second-degree murder in a gang-related shooting in 1992 and was sentenced to 15 years in email@example.com 253-597-8644 blog.thenewstribune.com/crime @TNTadam