Skylar Nemetz knew about guns.
He’d been around them from a young age, and as a former Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier was trained in how to handle them.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin made that clear Friday in sentencing the 21-year-old for manslaughter in the fatal shooting of his wife.
“You were an expert,” the judge said before imposing the high end of Nemetz’s sentencing range: 13 1/2 years in prison. “And the level of the expertise that you had shows the degree of recklessness. This isn’t someone who picked up a weapon for the first time.”
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Nemetz shot his wife, 19-year-old Danielle Nemetz, in the back of the head Oct. 16, 2014, at their Lakewood apartment with an AR-15 rifle he’d given her for her birthday.
A jury found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter last month, rejecting arguments from prosecutors that Nemetz committed first-degree murder, which would have carried at least a 25-year sentence.
In asking Friday for the maximum sentence for the lesser charge, deputy prosecutor Greg Greer said: “What will never really be answered is what happened.”
When Nemetz took the stand at trial, Greer said, he “hid behind” saying he didn’t remember, because he was distraught.
“He knows what happened,” Greer said. “He knows exactly what happened.”
Greer and deputy prosecutor Jared Ausserer argued during trial that Nemetz was jealous that another man had bought alcohol for his wife while he was training with the military in Yakima.
Defense attorney Michael Stewart argued that the shooting was an accident.
“The pain in this room is palpable,” Stewart said during the sentencing.
He said Nemetz was remorseful, and that “he struggles every day with what he’s done.”
Nemetz was a good soldier before the shooting, he said.
“This is a good man, and this is an unbelievable mistake,” Stewart said. “I think this is a really tough place for a young man to be, and I am proud of him.”
Danielle’s family asked for the maximum sentence when they spoke in court.
Her younger sister, Mikala Rippeon, sobbed as she said Danielle helped raise her after their mother died when they were very young.
“No one was capable of hating her,” she said.
Loved ones said Danielle planned to open a nail salon one day, and that she was famous for her “bear hugs,” where she would run and jump into the recipient’s arms.
Nemetz’s mother, Danette Heller, told the court she loved Danielle like a daughter.
She said she lost her home, car and savings in the defense of her son, and that he “lost the love of his life.”
At one point as she spoke, many of Danielle’s family members left the court room, returning later.
When it was Nemetz’s turn to speak, he apologized to Danielle’s family, and said he took responsibility for his actions.
“I was reckless and negligent, and for that I will pay,” he said. “Everybody lost in this trial. Everybody lost since the day she died.”