Tacoma teen sentenced to 7 years in fatal beating of father

Rylan Salzman enters Pierce County Superior Court for his arraignment in June 2014. He pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the beating death of his father.
Rylan Salzman enters Pierce County Superior Court for his arraignment in June 2014. He pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the beating death of his father. Staff file, 2014

Rylan Salzman never denied beating his father to death with a walking stick and hiding the body in a wooden container near the family’s Tacoma garage.

The 17-year-old pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder in the June 6, 2014, death of his dad, Richard Salzman. He was sentenced Thursday.

Pierce County deputy prosecuting attorney Lisa Wagner requested 10 years for Salzman; defense attorney Arturo Menendez suggested 6  1/2 years.

Superior Court Judge Brian Tollefson settled in the middle, sentencing Salzman to seven years, five months in confinement. He recommended the teen be housed at a juvenile facility until he turns 21 so he can get mental health treatment.

The judge said choosing a punishment for Salzman was “one of the most troublesome” decisions he’s had to make.

“Mr. Salzman’s behavior on the day of the offense demonstrates a certain amount of thinking like an adult,” Tollefson said. “However, at the same time, I can’t get over his youth.”

The defense argued that Rylan Salzman snapped after weathering years of dealing with an abusive, alcoholic father. Prosecutors pointed out the teen concealed the body for four days and called 911 only after his mother hired a private search-and-rescue firm.

Rylan Salzman was home alone with his father the night of Richard Salzman’s death.

His mother, Louise, went to a party for her niece’s graduation and drank too much. When she called home to say she planned to spend the night at her brother’s home, Richard Salzman argued with her.

When he hung up, Rylan Salzman told his father he didn’t like how he’d spoke to his mother. Salzman said his father shoved him to the floor and he grabbed a walking stick and hit his father repeatedly.

Detectives later said Richard Salzman was beaten so badly they had to use dental records to identify him.

The teen hid the body in a wooden container, along with the murder weapon and a bicycle, and picked his mother up from the party. He told her Richard Salzman took off on his bicycle.

She eventually filed a missing person report and hired a search and rescue company to look for him, prompting Rylan Salzman to confess and call 911.

He told investigators he covered up his father’s death so he could have a few days with his mother and sister before going to jail.

Salzman’s mother wrote a letter to the court, seeking leniency for her son because of the turmoil her husband brought to the household. She spoke of drunken rages, threats and physical abuse.

Louise Salzman filed for divorce in August 2013 and left with the children but eventually went back, records show.

Her son “is an exceptional kid who needs to start experiencing more of the positive things that life has to offer,” she wrote.

His 13-year-old sister wrote that she misses her brother and believes he acted in self-defense because of her father’s “abusive nature.”

Psychologists wrote lengthy reports after interviewing Rylan Salzman, saying he was influenced by two beers he drank before the fatal beating. They also pointed to studies showing how the juvenile brain isn’t formed well enough to make good, moral choices.

“He believed he had no choice but to protect his mother, whom he hoped would leave his father,” Dr. Marty Beyer wrote in an assessment of Rylan Salzman.

Several staff members at Remann Hall juvenile detention center, where Salzman has been held since his arrest, spoke on his behalf at Thursday’s sentencing.

Don Ewert said the teen has flourished and “can be a positive for the community when he gets out.”

They described how he transformed from a withdrawn, mistrusting boy to a thoughtful, sensitive young man. Staff members dug out an old piano for Salzman to play and said he rivals concert pianists.

Pierce County TV once filmed him performing.

A letter signed by more than 15 Remann Hall employees said they wanted to write “in support of a young man who made a terrible mistake.”

Christine Lopez, who works for the county Department of Assigned Counsel Investigator’s Office, said Salzman is still very much a boy.

“He has so much potential and is so worthy,” she said. “Rylan has much to give to the world. I know the world will benefit.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653