A Tacoma man active in the local marijuana industry pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree manslaughter in a fatal 1991 shooting.
Pierce County prosecutors originally charged Michael Schaef, 52, with first-degree murder in the death of Jerald Iafrati, but agreed to the plea deal after the strength of their case began to erode.
The case went uncharged for more than 20 years until Schaef’s ex-wife, Nicole Wyatt, told detectives in 2013 that Schaef shot Iafrati, 28, during a robbery May 6, 1991.
He was arrested in early 2014, charged with first-degree murder and has been in jail awaiting trial.
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Recently filed court records show deputy prosecutors Tim Jones and Melody Crick had concerns about Wyatt’s credibility and that DNA evidence collected during the investigation could not conclusively tie Schaef to the crime.
Wyatt previously had made similar claims about Schaef’s involvement in the killing, but later recanted them.
Jones wrote in court pleadings filed Friday that Wyatt is serving a prison sentence after being convicted of first-degree assault “involving a knife attack on her daughter.”
Additionally, she underwent mental-health treatment during that case to restore her competency to stand trial, Jones said.
“Her credibility would be a serious issue at trial,” the deputy prosecutor wrote.
Schaef and his family have insisted he did not participate in Iafrati’s killing, and Schaef entered a plea deal in which he maintained his innocence but agreed to accept responsibility to avoid the possibility of being convicted of a higher charge at trial.
He faces a standard-range of 25 to 34 months in prison when sentenced March 27. A first-degree murder conviction likely would have come with a sentence of 20 years or more.
The conviction was Schaef’s second under Washington’s “three strikes you’re out” law. He has a previous robbery conviction.
Schaef has worked in the local marijuana scene for some time, including running the upstairs marijuana bar at the Stonegate and operating a medical marijuana dispensary called GreenLight Expo.
He and a business partner made headlines in 2011 when they went to court to demand the return of marijuana seized during a police raid that resulted in no criminal charges against them.
A judge later ruled against Schaef and his partner.