Witness in Tacoma supremacist murder trial gets credit for time served

Derek Wagner
Derek Wagner Courtesy

A central figure in a fatal stabbing among white supremacists reaped the benefit of his plea agreement with Pierce County prosecutors Friday.

Jeffrey Cooke, 34, originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of Derek Wagner, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison by Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend.

Cooke had served 16 months in jail waiting to testify in the trials of his co-defendants, so he essentially received a sentence of credit for time served.

The second-degree assault conviction is Cooke’s second strike under Washington’s “three strikes you’re out law.” He has a previous conviction for manslaughter.

One more strike and he’ll be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors offered Cooke the deal in exchange for his testimony against three men accused of conspiring to kill Wagner in November 2013 and then executing the scheme.

Authorities believed the 27-year-old Wagner, who had ties to the white supremacist movement, angered Shanne McKittrick, Mark Stredicke and Eric Elliser by starting an affair with Stredicke’s wife.

McKittrick, Stredicke and Elliser, themselves tied to white supremacy, decided Wagner should be punished for violating the skinhead code.

Cooke was friends with all four men and was at the scene when McKittrick stabbed Wagner to death in Tacoma, court records show.

McKittrick claimed self-defense, but a jury convicted him and Elliser of murder, and they were sentenced to long stints in prison. Stredicke was acquitted.

On Friday, deputy prosecutor Angelica Williams told Arend that Cooke had abided by his agreement, and she recommended the sentence of 12 months and one day.

Several people wrote letters to the court on Cooke’s behalf, and his lawyer, Keith McFie, said Cooke was deserving of the benefit of the plea deal.

“Everything indicates to me this man has turned his life around 180 degrees,” McFie said.

A contrite Cooke told Arend he’d turned his life around since Wagner’s death.

“I’ve severed all ties to my former life,” he said as his wife sat in the courtroom gallery. “I gave up drinking. I’m a stay-at-home dad to my son. I have changed.”

The judge said she believed him and adopted the recommended sentence.