Aaron Livingston, a mountain of a man at 6 feet 8 and more than 400 pounds, was docile as he entered Pierce County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Livingston, 38, had tears in his eyes as corrections officers led him before Court Commissioner Meagan Foley to answer charges he killed two people and tried to kill a third.
He made eye contact with his ex-girlfriend, Julia Wheeler, who was seated in the front row of the gallery, and mouthed the words, "I'm sorry."
It was a far cry from his alleged behavior Friday, when authorities say he used an ax, dumbbell, electrical cords, a knife and wooden walking stick to kill Andrew Geissler and Denyse Marshall and tried to kill Wheeler, 39, in a rented house on Tacoma’s Hilltop.
Prosecutors have charged him with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder – the state’s highest crime – and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
Not guilty pleas were entered on Livingston’s behalf. Foley ordered him jailed without bail.
A conviction for aggravated first-degree murder carries a possible death sentence, but deputy prosecutor Stephen Penner said outside court a decision had not been made about whether to pursue it for Livingston. Gov. Jay Inslee has said no state prisoners would be put to death during his administration.
The only other punishment under state law for an aggravated murder conviction is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Tuesday's court proceedings were a tense affair.
Relatives and friends of victims Geissler, 25, and Marshall, 60, hurled curses at Livingston as he was led into court and then argued with a man who said he was Livingston's brother. That man said Livingston was a human being who didn’t mean to do what he’s charged with doing.
That statement was met with jeers and recriminations, and court was delayed while sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers restored order. Supporters of Wheeler kept close by her throughout the proceedings, offering hugs even as they themselves cried.
Prosecutors contend jealousy prompted Livingston to kill. He suspected Wheeler and Geissler, who sometimes slept at the house she and Marshall shared on South 19th Street, were having an affair, court records show.
On Thursday, Livingston was arrested for assaulting Wheeler and Geissler, beating them both about the head and shoulders. Livingston was booked into jail about 11:30 that night on suspicion of felony assault.
“The initial report indicated Wheeler suffered bruising and swelling to her right eye but declined medical aid, and that Geissler suffered bruising and swelling to his left eye and a laceration to his forehead,” court records show.
County prosecutors reviewed the case the next day and decided Livingston’s behavior did not rise to the level of a felony, the records show. They referred the case to Tacoma city prosecutors for possible misdemeanor domestic-violence charges. That charge was not filed Friday.
In the meantime, Livingston was released from jail.
Penner wrote in charging papers that the process followed in the case was not unusual.
“Had Livingston been charged with assault, he would have been allowed to post bail and be released from jail,” the deputy prosecutor wrote. “The booking bail for assault in the fourth degree is $1,000.”
A bail bond company often will post a defendant’s bond with a 10 percent deposit – $100 in Livingston’s case.
But it didn’t come to that. Livingston got out of jail free and clear about 7 p.m. Friday.
He went straight to the house on 19th Street, court records show.
Finding Geissler there and still convinced he was having an affair with Wheeler, Livingston allegedly armed himself with an ax and attacked Geissler on a couch, hitting him in the head and neck several times, the records show.
He then went upstairs, grabbed a wooden walking stick and used it to choke Wheeler into unconsciousness, the records show.
Livingston then returned downstairs where he attacked Marshall in her bedroom, choking her and hitting her repeatedly with a dumbbell, the records show.
He then allegedly retrieved a knife from the kitchen and cut the throats of Geissler and Marshall.
Livingston did not slash Wheeler, prosecutors said.
“Instead, he knew she might be dead and elected to ‘let God decide’ whether she lived or died,” the records show.
Livingston washed up in the kitchen sink and told three of Wheeler’s friends who stopped by to visit that everyone was asleep. Livingston then left the house and called his father to tell him what had happened.
Shortly afterward, Livingston approached police officers who were in the neighborhood for an unrelated call and turned himself in. He told them, “I did something really bad and hurt some people. You need to take me to jail,” charging papers state.
Police went to the home and looked in the window.
They forced their way inside after spotting Geissler’s body on the couch. They found Geissler and Marshall dead, the latter with several electrical cords wrapped around her neck.
Wheeler said outside court that she feels fortunate to be alive but thinks Geissler and Marshall would be too had authorities kept Livingston locked up after he allegedly attacked her Thursday.
“There was enough time given to pay attention to the background and details of this case, to hold him,” she said. “We should have got a call. Something. We should have been notified. But nothing. No bail. They just let him go.”
Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644