20 years in prison for Tacoma-area man who strangled wife after losing job

A Tacoma-area man who killed his wife of 35 years because he didn’t want her to suffer financial hardship after he lost his job was sentenced Monday to 20 years in prison.

Michael L. Brown, 58, previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the strangulation death of his wife, Valerie Brown.

Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin imposed the sentence.

Valerie Brown died Jan. 8 at their home in the 10400 block of Sheridan Avenue South when she was strangled with a belt, court records state. She was 59.

According to court records, Michael Brown called 911 to report the slaying.

He told Pierce County sheriff’s deputies he killed his wife because he’d recently lost his longtime job as a janitor for MultiCare and did not want her to have to deal with the financial fallout, the records state.

Deputy prosecutor Hugh Birgenheier argued Monday for a sentence of 20 years.

Michael Brown attacked his wife while she was taking a nap and defenseless, paused his assault to take a phone call, and then returned to the attack and killed her, Birgenheier wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

“The defendant later noted that he wanted to make sure the victim was dead,” Birgenheier wrote, citing a statement Michael Brown gave to investigators. “The defendant did not want to leave the victim in a state of incapacitation.

“The defendant estimated it took between seven and 10 minutes to murder the victim.”

Trisha King Stargel is married to Valerie Brown’s brother. In a letter to the court, she called the victim a loving family member whose absence is sorely missed.

“Valerie’s death has devastated this family,” King Stargel wrote. “This is a family that believes in long-term friendships, where even ex-wives are still cherished members, and the concept of family is held dear.

“We will miss Valerie forever and never be the same.”

Defense attorney Curtis Huff argued for a sentence of 12 years.

In a sentencing memorandum, he noted that, for most of his life, Brown has suffered from documented depression, a condition exacerbated by his separation from MultiCare.

On the day of the killing, Brown was delusional, thinking that by killing his wife he’d save her the embarrassment and difficulty of perceived financial ruin, Huff wrote.

“Of course, with extended family present who could assist financially, this delusion was a fallacy, but in the mind of Mr. Brown, it was absolute truth,” Huff’s memorandum states.”

Huff pointed out that Brown cut his own throat in a suicide attempt after the slaying.

“Also of importance is Mr. Brown’s heartfelt remorse for his role in the death of his own wife of 35 years and his desire to ameliorate the damage flowing from his actions by accepting a resolution that would spare members of Valerie’s family from the trauma of a trial and possible protracted appeal,” Huff wrote.

Michael Brown’s brother, Perry Brown, submitted a letter to the court seeking leniency for the defendant.

“I have always known Mike to be a kind and gentle person,” Perry Brown wrote. “I have never known him to be physically or verbally abusive toward his wife, Valerie.”

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644