Crime

She was killed while prowling cars. Her family wants her known for more

Parents speak to man who fatally shot their daughter

Tom Deines and Sirkka Pahkala spoke at the sentencing of their daughter's killer Friday in Pierce County Superior Court. James Reha, 19, fatally shot Morgan Deines on Nov. 11 in Tacoma.
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Tom Deines and Sirkka Pahkala spoke at the sentencing of their daughter's killer Friday in Pierce County Superior Court. James Reha, 19, fatally shot Morgan Deines on Nov. 11 in Tacoma.

Sirkka Pahkala had a request of the Pierce County judge who was to sentence her daughter’s killer.

It wasn’t about the length of the sentence, but the legacy she wants for her only child.

“I don’t want her to be remembered as a car prowler,” Pahkala said Friday.

Tacoma police said 23-year-old Morgan Pahkala Deines was fatally shot by James Michael Reha, after he found Deines and a friend prowling his car about a year ago.

On Friday, her parents told Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend they believe Deines made poor choices about who she spent time with. That she was too trusting, with the wrong people — typical growing pains of a young adult.

But they had high hopes for her future.

She grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and started going to University of Oregon football games when she was 4. When she was older, she called her dad to talk about the games.

“She would be asking me why the Ducks suck this year,” Tom Deines told the court.

She studied for a year with their rivals, at Oregon State University, and her parents said she planned to go back to school. They believe she would have become a meteorologist, or researched climate change.

She made people laugh, and was a loyal friend, they said.

Reha, 29, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter earlier this month for her death. As part of negotiations, Deputy Prosecutor Tim Lewis and defense attorney Brett Purtzer recommended a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Arend agreed, and that’s what she gave Reha.

According to charging papers, Reha was drunk and sleeping in his vehicle Nov. 11 when Deines and a friend were prowling cars near North Seventh and Junett streets. They took his cellphone and speakers from the car.

They ran when he woke up, and Reha shot at the SUV Deines was driving, hitting her in the back of the head. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

“A life for a cellphone,” her father said at sentencing. “Have you ever thought about that Mr. Reha?”

Tom Deines told the court his daughter’s accomplice was the one who took the belongings.

Why his daughter was there that night, he couldn’t answer, he said.

But he knows Reha shot her as she was trying to leave. He showed Reha a photo of his daughter, to make sure he saw her face.

“I know that you saw her back,” he said.

When it was Reha’s turn to speak, he apologized, and asked for forgiveness.

“No ones wins in this situation,” he said.

His loved ones wrote the court that he had been doing well before the shooting. He’d learned from past mistakes, they said, and been working full-time at a warehouse, contributing to a retirement account and making his car payments.

“He would be sure to say, ‘I love you’ always before leaving the house,” his mother, Patty Reha wrote. “James and I often talked about the three Fs — family, friends and faith.”

Deines’ parents said they do forgive Reha.

They said they get some peace from the last post their daughter made on Facebook, which they think indicated she was making positive changes in her life.

“Everything happens for a reason, and God has a plan,” she wrote.

She loved a good rainbow, Tom Deines said. And he’s seen a lot of them this past year.

Now, he hopes Reha salvages his life with faith.

“Get yourself a Bible and read it,” he told him.

He has the time to, he said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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