Crime

The man who killed Jennifer Bastian in 1986 in Tacoma has been sentenced

Jennifer Bastian’s killer sentenced

Robert Dwane Washburn, 61, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for Jennifer Bastian’s death in 1986 in Tacoma.
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Robert Dwane Washburn, 61, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for Jennifer Bastian’s death in 1986 in Tacoma.

Jennifer Bastian’s family waited more than 32 years for justice.

It finally came Friday when the 13-year-old’s killer was sentenced to nearly 27 years in prison.

Robert Dwane Washburn, 61, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for Bastian’s death — a cold case that detectives solved last year when DNA linked him to the crime.

Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin then handed down the 320-month sentence.

Bastian went missing Aug. 4, 1986 while riding her Schwinn bicycle in Point Defiance Park. Her body was found in a wooded area of the park weeks later.

Washburn’s plea statement said that he grabbed Bastian by the arm, led her into the woods, then strangled her.

There were signs of sexual assault, charging papers said.

On Friday, family, friends and supporters of Bastian packed the courtroom for Washburn’s plea and sentencing, including detectives and Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell.

The court also provided an overflow room with video.

Pattie Bastian, Jennifer’s mother, described to the court how there’s “always a cloud of fear and foreboding” for the family on nice summer days.

“We continued to live and laugh and love, but in a much different way,” she said.

She also described how the crime changed the city.

Kids stopped playing outside unsupervised, and “walking to school became a logistical nightmare,” she said.

Half those in the courtroom gallery were kids themselves in 1986, she told the judge, and the crime influenced how they’re raising their own children.

That includes Jennifer’s sister, Theresa Bastian, who told the court that she hadn’t taught her daughter how to ride a bike.

“You made me an only child,” she told Washburn.

Washburn declined to speak on his behalf at sentencing but did write a statement that Judge Martin read aloud.

He wrote that he wanted to plead guilty from the start of his legal proceedings to spare his family and the Bastian family the trauma of a trial. The letter said he was sorry for his actions and that he recognized the impact they had on many people.

Washburn wrote that he hoped his sentencing would bring the Bastian family “one step closer in their healing process.”

The Bastian family told reporters outside court that they felt justice had been served and praised the law enforcement officers who never gave up.

“There’s a certain amount of exhaling that went on in that courtroom,” Pattie Bastian said.

She noted that Washburn looked down throughout the hearing.

“I guess that’s the picture of a guilty man,” she said.

Washburn got the sentence he deserved, she said, adding that she couldn’t imagine going to trial and having to relive details of the crime.

“He did give us the gift of not having to go to trial,” Pattie Bastian said.

Theresa Bastian noted that, at age 61, Washburn likely will die in prison.

“His sentence is a lifetime,” she said.

Until DNA showed otherwise in 2016, investigators thought that the same person killed Bastian and another girl, 12-year-old Michella Welch. Welch also went missing in 1986. Her body was found in Tacoma’s Puget Park.

The gruesome crimes so close to one another shook Tacoma.

Washburn contacted police about the Welch case in 1986 and said he saw someone jogging in Point Defiance Park who resembled her killer. He wasn’t considered a main suspect in Bastian’s murder, but he was on the list.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation went to his home in Eureka, Illinois in March 2017, he gave investigators a DNA sample. Test results in May 2018 linked him to Bastian’s death, and he was arrested and charged.

Welch’s suspected killer also was arrested and charged last year, following DNA tests.

Prosecutors accuse 67-year-old Gary Charles Hartman of sexually assaulting and killing Welch March 26, 1986. Her body was found in the park’s gulch that night. She died from a cut to her neck and blunt force trauma to her head.

Hartman has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.

Before she sentenced Washburn, Martin noted how Bastian’s death “grotesquely compared” to the innocence of a child riding a bike. She added that the murder traumatized an entire community.

“Jennifer’s life was stolen right as she was poised to begin it,” the judge said.

Then Martin said the high-end sentence recommended by the state and the defense was appropriate.

Thirty-two years, she said, is a long time to wait for justice.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.
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