Friday was a long time coming for the relatives and friends of Linda Robinson, the 36-year-old woman stabbed to death in her Spanaway home in 1993.
A long time coming for Shawonika Elliott, who was 7 when she woke to find her Aunt Linda, who’d been babysitting her, dead on the kitchen floor.
A long time coming for Tarica Dudley, who was 15 when a sheriff’s deputy interrupted her night at the skating rink with news that her mother was dead.
It also was a long time coming for James Mitchell, who avoided prosecution in Robinson’s death until two years ago when sheriff’s detectives used DNA evidence to tie him, finally, to the crime.
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They all gathered in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Katherine Stolz to learn the punishment for Mitchell, who a jury convicted last month of first-degree murder.
Faced with a standard range of 30 to 41 years, Stolz picked 37, saying Mitchell, 52, was likely to die in prison no matter what part of the range she gave him.
The sentence brought a bit of closure to Robinson’s loved ones, who’d wondered since her death if her killer ever would be caught.
“I’m relieved justice finally has come,” Gloria Elliott-Harris, Robinson’s sister, told Stolz before the sentence was handed down.
Robinson, 36, was home the evening of Feb. 6, 1993, with her young niece and nephew while her own daughter went to roller skate. She’d put the kids to bed in the living room and gone into the kitchen to make herself some soup when she was attacked, stabbed multiple times and left to die.
Left on the stove, the soup began to burn, setting off the smoke alarm, which woke Elliott. She went into the kitchen to find Robinson dead.
“She never had a chance,” the now 30-year-old woman told Stolz.
Elliott added Friday that she still flashes back to the horror of that moment and lives with the guilt of not being able to help investigators with a description of the killer.
The case went cold, but sheriff’s detective Tim Kobel revived it in 2013 when forensics experts using newer techniques were able to match some DNA found at the scene to another sample in a national database. It was a match for Mitchell, who’d moved to Florida.
He was arrested there and brought back to Tacoma for trial.
Friends and relatives described Robinson as a warm and loving person whose death brought two decades of loss and despair.
Dudley, now a 38-year-old mother of three, described her pain at not being able to ask her mother’s advice on parenting.
“Instead, I was left with a big void in my life,” she told Stolz.
Mitchell has denied killing Robinson, a claim he repeated Friday. He complained that his trial was not fair. There were other suspects, he said.
A motive for the crime was never discovered.
“I was not the person who killed Linda Robinson, and I’m going to maintain that until the day I die,” he told Stolz.
The judge said the jury had spoken.
“I think we’ve all read and seen articles where DNA has cleared somebody convicted wrongfully years ago,” Stolz said. “The flip side of that is DNA can convict someone who may have walked free for a number of years.”