Nathen Terault sentencing
Kim Vesey refers to Aug. 11, 2015, as the day “evil came to our neighborhood.”
In a Pierce County courtroom Thursday, he recalled the day a year before when Nathen Terault visited terror on her theretofore quiet Puyallup community.
The 35-year-old Terault shot dead Vesey’s neighbor, 71-year-old Richard Johnson, and fired more shots at grade school children, school teachers home for the summer, passers-by and police.
The rampage finally ended when Terault was shot by a police detective and pinned under a police vehicle by another officer.
“That day, no one was safe,” Vesey told Superior Court Judge Edmund Murphy at Terault’s sentencing hearing.
Some days, continued Vesey, who with her teenage son were shot at by Terault, it seems no one ever will be again.
“This sense of safety?” she said. “It’s gone.”
Murphy acknowledged that loss as he rejected a negotiated sentencing recommendation for Terault of 46 years in prison and instead sentenced him to the high end of 51 years, eight months.
Before sentencing, Terault plead guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and multiple counts of second-degree assault for his rampage, crimes his attorney said were fueled by methamphetamine and paranoia.
“I’ve been around the criminal-justice system for 33 years, and I’ve seen a lot of cases that defy explanation,” the judge said. “This is certainly one of them, a case where this kind of terror comes to a community and is as widespread as it was on a population that is vulnerable.
“And by that I’m talking about senior citizens. I’m talking about children. I’m talking about families.”
It was a beautiful summer day when Terault stumbled into Vesey’s neighborhood and began rifling through Johnson’s pickup, a massive vehicle known in the neighborhood as “Big Red.”
When Johnson confronted Terault, the younger man pulled out a gun, pointed it at the man known to his grandchildren as “Bop” and began firing. Johnson tried to run but was hit three times and died in his driveway.
Johnson’s widow, Sally Johnson, and the couple’s two adult children, Christian Johnson and Julie Miller, described the victim as a loving father, devoted husband and doting grandfather.
His death has left them bereft and fearful, they told Murphy.
“Our lives have been broken,” Sally Johnson testified, her children at her side. “Myself, I have no joy. We are sentenced to a lifetime without him.”
Kathleen Stevens-Barerra lives nearby.
The school teacher was home with her 12-year-old daughter and her daughter’s 9-year-old friend when she heard what she thought was the sound of fireworks outside.
Stevens-Barerra said she went to her front door and saw her beloved neighbor Johnson running for his life.
“I knew then something was wrong,” she told Murphy.
Stevens-Barerra said she called the girls inside from the backyard just as she saw Terault running through her side yard. He looked at her through a window and started firing into the house, she said.
“I yelled, ‘Get down,’ to the girls as my home was riddled with bullets. My home. My place of safety. No more,” she testified. “Make no mistake, it is a nightmare that we will never wake up from.”
Terault sat quietly as more witnesses recounted a litany of horror and its ramifications, including the sense that they could be safe in their own homes.
“Active shooters are real,” Johnson’s daughter, Julie Miller, testified through tears. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a quiet town or how much you’re loved. They don’t care.”
Defense attorney Aaron Talney then told Murphy that Terault was in a meth-induced fog at the time of his eight-minute rampage, but that did not absolve him of responsibility for what he’d done.
“He knows that he killed another person,” Talney said. “The only way he can make amends today is to tell this court and the people in this room that he is guilty.”
Terault then had his chance.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could fix it.” he said. “I am guilty. I wish I wasn’t. I don’t expect mercy. It’s not what I’m asking for.”
He then turned toward Johnson’s family.
“I wish I could bring your dad back,” Terault said.
The defendant, who had a long criminal record before his actions of last August, went on to say he hoped his plight would be an example to his young son to live a good and moral life.
“I hope that by breaking this chain, I’m giving my son a chance,” Terault said.
Corrections officers then ordered him to his feet and escorted out of court and toward a half century in prison.