Man sentenced for killing ex-girlfriend in Puyallup apartment

A Puyallup man has been sentenced for killing his ex-girlfriend after she stopped by his apartment to get her belongings, court records show.

Michael Anthony Lee, 61, was scheduled to go to trial in October.

Instead, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last month, admitting he strangled 47-year-old Ethelyn Rojas.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson gave him a mid-range sentence of 15 years in prison Aug. 5.

Court records and police gave this account of her death Oct. 3, 2018:

Rojas told a coworker she was going to stop by her ex’s home to get her belongings.

Her fiance worried when she didn’t show up for work and drove to the apartments in the 2500 block of South Meridian where he knew Lee lived.

He saw her vehicle there.

No one answered when officers tried to contact Lee at his apartment, but Lee did answer the phone after multiple calls.

Lee said he hadn’t spoken to Rojas in about a week.

Officers had property management let them into the apartment, where they found Rojas’ body.

They found Lee under a blanket in another room, acting like he was asleep.

He told detectives that Rojas “was playing with his heart and his mind and he was tired of it,” the declaration for determination of probable cause says.

He’d gotten angry and tried to walk away, he said. Rojas grabbed his arm.

“Lee said he spun her to the ground, straddled her, and put his hand over her nose and mouth until she stopped breathing,” the probable cause statement says.

Paperwork his defense attorney submitted to the court ahead of sentencing said Lee served for more than 20 years in the Army and the Washington National Guard and that he’s suffered from untreated depression in recent years.

“Prior to his arrest, Michael was sinking further into his depression, frustrated by his inability to maintain relationships, and overall poor outlook on life,” the paperwork says. “He self-medicated for years with alcohol to cope with his emotional pain. He became increasingly isolated and avoided activities with others. Alcohol was certainly a catalyst for this tragic event.”

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.