Dean Holmes told investigators he held the same gun to his head that he used to kill his wife and daughter, but could not bring himself to pull the trigger.
Instead, he tried to scrub his family’s blood from his clothes. He watched television. He spent hours sitting on Ruston Way, staring at the water. Then he drove to the Pierce County Jail early Wednesday to confess.
On Thursday, the 40-year-old Spanaway house painter pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated murder with an enhancement for using a firearm.
Prosecutors said Holmes will face the death penalty or life without parole if he’s convicted as charged. A decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be made within 30 days, Deputy Prosecutor Phil Sorensen said.
Charging papers indicate Holmes was desperate to keep his wife, 41-year-old Kristi Holmes, from discovering he had lied about their dire financial situation because he didn’t want her to leave him again. Holmes’ painting company appeared to be failing and he’d been sued twice, with a third person filing a small claim against him this month. His clients allege he took deposits and other money to paint their houses but never finished the job.
He told investigators he shot his wife four times while she slept because “he could not bear to have her again discover his many deceptions, believing she would leave him.”
Then Holmes allegedly drove their 11-year-old daughter, Violet, around town and shot her while she slept in the backseat before stopping at a fast-food restaurant for a bite to eat.
According to court documents:
Kristi Holmes left her husband of 12 years in December after finding out he had been spending beyond his means and lying about it. Although she was angry that he deceived her and still owed the state a significant amount of money for businesses taxes, she returned home a few months later.
Holmes continued lying to his wife and promised to move them into a more affordable home.
He packed the family’s belongings into boxes and prepared to move Tuesday. Except, there was no new home to move into.
“Holmes said even that was an elaborate ruse on his part,” documents state.
Fearful of what Kristi Holmes would say when she found out he’d lied again, Holmes shot her with a .38-caliber revolver he kept in a dresser drawer beside their bed.
Then he went into the living room where his daughter and a friend were having a sleepover. A fan apparently obscured the sound of gunshots because both girls were still asleep.
Holmes reloaded the revolver and threw the empty casings in the garbage. He woke the girls, put them in his car and took his daughter’s friend home to Auburn.
As they neared home in the 15500 block of 20th Avenue Court East, Holmes pulled over, rolled down the backseat window and got out of the car. Then he shot his daughter multiple times.
“Holmes reasoned his daughter would be unable to cope with her mother’s death and her father’s imprisonment, concluding that dying was somehow in her best interest,” according to charging papers.
Holmes next went to a fast-food restaurant and ordered food with Violet’s body lying in the backseat.
When he arrived home, Holmes placed his daughter’s body next to his wife’s body in the bed of the master bedroom and contemplated suicide.
Because he couldn’t pull the trigger again, he went to tell authorities what he had done.
“If I made a list of anyone I thought would do this, he’d be at the bottom of it,” said Jerry McNulty, who was married to Holmes’ sister before she passed away. He said he coached Holmes in little league baseball when he was growing up in Puyallup.
“It’s absolutely horrendous. … We don’t know what he was thinking,” McNulty said.
Friends describe Kristi Homes as a friendly woman who volunteered at fundraisers for a local high school show choir even after her other daughter who sang with the group graduated and left for college last year.
“This is such a negative thing, and it’s just so important to recognize what a positive person she was, what a positive contribution she made,” choir director Bernard Crouse said at a vigil in the family’s neighborhood Wednesday night.
Violet went to the choir’s concerts and on some of their trips with her mother, most recently to Disneyland in May, friends said.
“She’s just a sweet little girl that likes to tag along with mom and was very supportive of her sister,” friend Lindy Heindel said.
Staff writer Alexis Krell contributed to this report.