Jess Charles Golden knows a lot of people want him to explain why he killed Audreyanna Joy Newell.
But he had no answer Friday when he was sentenced for shooting the 29-year-old woman at a Northeast Tacoma viewpoint.
“There were days when I would wake up in my car and I didn’t know how I got there,” Golden told the court about his drinking habits at the time.
He’d been devastated, he said, after his daughter and her mother moved out of his home and he turned to alcohol. But how that led him to shoot someone he barely knew in the back of the head Jan. 19, he didn’t clarify.
“I really wish I could answer the question of why this happened,” the 26-year-old said. “It haunts me every day.”
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend sentenced Golden to 18 years, four months in prison. The defense and prosecution recommended the high-end sentence as part of negotiations that led him to plead guilty to second-degree murder in August.
A man walking his dog found Newell’s body in the 5800 block of Marine View Drive, and a witness in the area reported hearing a gunshot two hours earlier.
Investigators traced a bag of beer bottles at the scene to a Seattle convenience store. Video showed Newell and Golden buying beer there, then heading to a Link light rail station, taking the train to Golden’s vehicle and driving to Marine View Drive.
When detectives spoke with Golden, he said he’d met a homeless woman in Seattle, and agreed to let her spend the night at his home, then changed his mind and dropped her off somewhere else.
At first, he said she pulled a knife on him when he dropped her off, and that he gave her a gun in his glove box and she left.
“There’s a lot of unanswered questions about what actually happened that night,” Deputy Prosecutor Jared Ausserer told the court. “I think Mr. Golden is the only person who knows that.”
Defense attorney Philip Thornton said Golden was suffering from an undefined mental illness at the time, and was struggling with his alcohol problem.
Golden’s family and Newell’s filled the courtroom, and their mothers spoke ahead of sentencing.
Susan Keller said Newell, her youngest daughter, had struggled as a young woman to cope with the deaths of her grandmother and brother.
“She had a diagnosis in her later years of mental illness that was brought on by the use of drugs,” Keller said. “She was extremely vulnerable on the streets.”
Newell was released from a Seattle jail a couple days before her death.
Her younger years were better. She graduated from Spanaway Lake High School and took classes to be a medical assistant. And she sang.
Keller played a video of Newell singing, as Golden and others in the courtroom watched.
Outside court she told a story about how a flight attendant once handed her and Newell the microphone on an airplane when the stewardess heard them singing Christmas carols together.
Another time, Newell belted out the national anthem in an airport on a dare.
Keller said she had high hopes and many prayers that her youngest would overcome her struggles and sing with her again.
Now, she told Golden, her hopes and prayers are for him.
“I have an idea that you will never be the same again and I hope that this will be the defining moment in your life and that you will rise from this occasion with a new direction and a new purpose for living,” she said.
Keller told Golden she lost her husband to a heart attack several months before Newell’s death, and that her faith is what got her through those tragedies.
She said she hoped he’d turn to faith for direction while in prison.
Teresa Golden asked the judge for mercy on her son’s behalf, and said he had found God.
She struggled, she said, to understand what happened.
“This is not how we see Jesse,” she said. “Not through our eyes. Not even close.”
She said her son was a hard worker and a good father to his 6-year-old.
Newell had a child — an 8-year-old being raised by Newell’s sister.
As she delivered the sentence, Arend told the families the courtroom had a different feel than in similar cases.
“What’s different here is forgiveness,” she said. “... If one can look for anything positive out of this horrific tragedy, I guess it would be that.”