Before he left the Cowlitz County city of Kalama for a trip to Tacoma in November 2013, Derek Wagner told his mother he’d be back soon to celebrate her birthday, promising it would be one she’d never forget.
On Friday in Pierce County Superior Court, Kristi Koethe told Shanne McKittrick and Eric Elliser they’d turned Wagner’s promise into a horrifying reality.
“I’ll never forget it because that was the last time I spoke to him,” Koethe said at the sentencing hearing for the two men, who were convicted of second-degree murder in Wagner’s death.
“I want you boys to know what you took from me. You took my life. You took all of me.”
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A jury in April convicted McKittrick and Elliser of murdering Wagner, 27, on a Tacoma street in a dispute involving an acquaintance’s wife. Wagner’s death came late Nov. 16 or early Nov. 17, a few days before Koethe’s birthday.
On Friday, Judge Jack Nevin sentenced McKittrick, 33, to a high-end sentence of 24 years, 11 months in prison and Elliser, 35, to life without parole under the state’s three-strikes law.
Nevin called it “a sad day” for all involved and said McKittrick’s and Elliser’s membership in the white supremacy movement and its “culture of violence” led them astray.
“It didn’t have to happen,” Nevin said.
Deputy prosecutors James Schacht and Angelica Williams argued at trial that McKittrick and Elliser were upholding a skinhead code when they attacked Wagner, with McKittrick stabbing him multiple times.
Wagner, who had ties to the skinhead movement, had shown disrespect to another white supremacist by starting an affair with his wife, a transgression punishable by violence, the prosecutors argued.
McKittrick had goaded Wagner into a confrontation and used it as an excuse to kill him, the prosecutors said.
Williams said Friday that McKittrick deserved a high-end sentence for his “lack of respect for humanity and life.”
McKittrick’s attorney, who argued unsuccessfully for a new trial, called for a mid-range sentence of 20 years, nine months.
Les Tolzin said his client was defending himself against Wagner, who he said had come to Tacoma “looking to resolve issues, violently if necessary.”
“Did he get highly intoxicated? Yes, he did. Did he try to start a fight with my client? Yes, he did,” said Tolzin, who pointed out Wagner was armed with a knife.
McKittrick maintained his innocence, at one point interrupting Koethe’s remarks to the court.
“We didn’t do any of the things that (expletive) told you,” McKittrick told Wagner’s mother while gesturing toward prosecutors.
During his comments to the court, McKittrick said, “I’d like to say I’m sorry to Kristi that she’s been lied to.”
Elliser’s sentencing came next.
Schacht told Nevin only one sentence was available for Elliser, who has two previous convictions for violent felonies: Life without parole.
Elliser’s attorney, Michael Underwood, who had his request for a new trial rejected, said there wasn’t much he could say on his client’s behalf, given the state of the law.
Elliser had something to say, though. He accused prosecutors of manipulating the jury and the law and detectives of lying. He did not receive a fair trial, he said.
Elliser then offered condolences to Koethe.
“I’m very sorry for your loss, Ms. Koethe,” he said. “I had nothing to do with your son’s death.”
A jury saw otherwise, and, barring a successful appeal, Elliser will never again walk the streets a free man.