A Tacoma man who pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, even though he insists he didn’t participate in a 1991 killing, was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison.
Michael Schaef, 52, told Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin that he took the deal with prosecutors to put what’s been a nearly 25-year ordeal behind him.
“It’s a crime I didn’t commit, but the stakes were too high, your honor,” said Schaef, who faced decades in prison if convicted of first-degree murder as he’d originally been charged.
The 30-month sentence was recommended by deputy prosecutor Tim Jones and defense attorney Philip Thornton. Nevin gave Schaef credit for the 15 months he’s spent locked up while awaiting trial.
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Schaef was considered a prime suspect when Jerald Iafrati, 28, was shot to death in May 6, 1991, in what investigators surmised was a drug deal gone sour.
Detectives worked the case but could not gather enough evidence for prosecutors to charge Schaef.
The case was revived when Schaef’s ex-wife, Nicole Wyatt, told investigators Schaef was involved in Iafrati’s death.
Wyatt later recanted, but in 2013 reiterated her earlier claims, and detectives arrested Schaef last year. He was charged with first-degree murder.
But the prosecution’s case began to erode.
Jones wrote in court records that Wyatt’s credibility had become suspect because of a felony conviction and mental health troubles. What’s more, DNA evidence collected at the crime scene was inconclusive, Jones said.
Prosecutors then agreed to cut a deal.
Wyatt’s stepfather wrote a letter to Nevin vouching for her credibility, but the letter came after the plea deal was done.
Before his arrest, Schaef was active in the local marijuana industry, including running the upstairs pot bar at the Stonegate and operating a medical marijuana dispensary called GreenLight Expo.