Man who killed elderly woman and her son with a hammer gets 40 years

Two people died after a hammer attack at this home on East 58th and East I streets in Tacoma on Sept. 8, 2015.
Two people died after a hammer attack at this home on East 58th and East I streets in Tacoma on Sept. 8, 2015. Staff file, 2015

A man who killed a 78-year-old Tacoma woman and her disabled son with a hammer will spend the next 40 years in prison.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie A. Arend handed down the sentence Friday after Nicholas Lane, 29, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of second-degree murder in negotiations with prosecutors.

Lane also must spend three years in community custody after he is released.

He has said he doesn’t remember the attacks, which took place Sept. 8, 2015, at a house in the 5800 block of East I Street. His mother lived there with the victims, Joyce Coffel and Clifford Bennett, 57.

After staying in the home for three days, Lane came downstairs with a ball-peen hammer in his hand and told his mother he’d killed two people and that his head was messed up.

First responders found Coffel in her recliner with wounds near her eyes from the hammer. She was rushed to a hospital and died six weeks later.

Bennett, who was physically disabled, was found on a bedroom floor with wounds to his face from the hammer. He’d been struck five or six times in the head.

Police found Lane in the backyard. He had tried to cut his hair and put clean pants on over blood-stained clothing.

He told officers he’d “snapped” after being awake for three days using drugs. His mother said he’d recently used methamphetamine and heroin.

Lane’s grandmother wrote a letter to the court about Lane’s troubled childhood and struggle with drugs. She insisted he’s now clean and has found religion, and she asked for leniency.

“We were in total shock to hear what had happened,” wrote Susan Bullis, who added that drugs were to blame for the attacks.

But Kathy Gurnee, who was Coffel’s daughter and Bennett’s sister, said she doesn’t believe Lane is repentant. She believes the attacks were deliberate, and was upset because Lane declined to write her a letter giving her his account so she could try to understand.

“There is no way in my mind to understand a cold-blooded killer with no remorse,” Gurnee wrote before asking the judge for a long sentence.

A man died and a woman suffered life-threatening injuries in what a caller reported to be a hammer attack. Tacoma Police Department spokeswoman Loretta Cool gives an update at the scene on East 58th and East I streets Sept. 8, 2015. Video by David

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