Ellen Woods stood in Pierce County Superior Court on Friday and sobbed while clutching her slain husband’s blood-stained wedding ring.
“My life collapsed and my children’s lives have been shattered” since January 2014, when a drinking companion killed Shawn Woods at a South Hill house, she said.
Across the courtroom from where she stood, Chase Devyver, 30, sank into his chair behind the defense table, facing decades in prison.
He claimed not to remember stabbing Woods, a 38-year-old Army sergeant, or his own girlfriend, who survived the attack Woods had intervened in.
Devyver said he blacked out during a long night of drinking with Woods, his new friend, and remembered nothing of quarreling with the girlfriend even before the violence.
“I still don’t really understand what happened,” he said in a flat and broken voice, still in handcuffs at the defense table. “I have no recollection of the events.”
Devyver sat wearily and without visible change of expression when Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck said he would serve 30 years, 11 months, the longest possible sentence, for the second-degree murder of Woods and other crimes a jury found him guilty of in April.
Ellen Woods told Devyver her husband had been a good man who their four children will miss for their entire adult lives.
“This killer is a failure. My husband was successful at everything he did,” she said.
She called Devyver “evil” and “a coward,” and said Devyver’s life would be forgotten.
Mementoes of Shawn Woods’ life came with his widow into court. He had been preparing to retire after 20 years in the military, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now Ellen Woods carries a purse she made from his camouflage Army jacket and keeps his wedding ring in the clear plastic evidence bag it was returned to her in, still red with blood.
“I don’t want to wash it off,” she said, her voice trembling, “because it is all I have left of him.”
Neither Devyver nor his attorney, Travis Currie, could explain the violence.
“I’m at a loss,” Currie said.
Devyver served in Iraq as an Army medic and left the service as a private first class in 2013. He had no history of violence or significant crime before the early-morning hours of Jan. 19, 2014.
Authorities allege a quarrel with his girlfriend outside the home of their designated driver led to Devyver stabbing and wounding the woman.
Woods, who had been sleeping inside the house, was awakened by the screaming and came outside, where he was stabbed to death. Devyver fled. After a high-speed chase, he crashed into a utility pole and asked police to shoot him.
Deputy prosecutor Patrick Cooper argued for the maximum sentence and said Devyver’s violence against Woods came unprovoked.
“Mr. Woods was acting as a good Samaritan when this happened,” Cooper said. “He was coming to the aid” of the wounded woman.
Devyver said he had searched for a reason to offer for the violent escapade but found nothing to give.
“The simple fact is, I don’t know what was going through my mind,” he said. “I don’t know what motivated my behavior.”
He added that he would not be able to forgive himself until Ellen Woods and the woman he stabbed are able to forgive him.
Van Doorninck said the lack of explanation or apology for the attacks were reasons to deny Currie’s request for Devyver to receive a shorter sentence.
“I don’t see any remorse, I don’t see that,” the judge said. “I didn’t see it at trial. I don’t see it today.”
When sheriff’s deputies led Devyver away to a cell, Ellen Woods sat in a hallway chair, hugged prosecutors and said she was glad the maximum sentence had come down for her husband’s killer.
“It wasn’t hard to see him today,” she said. “It was hard to contain myself.”