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State v. Wakefield

October 24, 1996

THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
MARILYN WAKEFIELD, PETITIONER.



Appeal from Superior Court, King County; 92-1-04220-3. Honorable Norma S. Huggins, Judge. Judgment Date: 1-21-94.

Authored by Barbara Durham, C.j. Concurring: Richard P. Guy, James M. Dolliver, Charles Z. Smith, Charles W. Johnson, Philip A. Talmadge, J.j. Dissenting: Gerry L. Alexander, J. (concurring in part/Dissenting in part by separate opinion) Richard B. Sanders, J. (concurring in part/Dissenting in part by separate opinion) Barbara A. Madsen, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Durham

En Banc

DURHAM, C.J. -- Defendant Marilyn Wakefield pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter after the trial court indicated during plea negotiations that it would sentence her within the standard sentencing range. At the sentencing phase of trial, the court nonetheless imposed the statutory maximum penalty instead of a standard range sentence. Wakefield contends, inter alia, that her plea was involuntary and that the only adequate remedy is to remand her case for resentencing within the standard range. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, but nevertheless held that Wakefield could withdraw her plea since she may have been misled by the trial court. We affirm.

FACTS

On June 29, 1992, 52-year-old Marilyn Wakefield was charged with second degree murder in the death of 40-year-old Robert Brockman. Wakefield had worked as Brockman's live-in caregiver since 1991. Brockman was paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a 1986 motorcycle accident and confined to a battery operated wheelchair. He wore a neck brace with a lever near his chin that allowed him to maneuver the wheelchair. Brockman could not turn the wheelchair on and off, and relied on someone else to do this for him.

In late May 1992, Brockman's brother became worried after calling him for several days but receiving no answer. At the behest of his father, he went to Brockman's apartment along with police on June 6, 1992. Upon arriving, they immediately noticed a blanket covering the bedroom window where Brockman spent most of his time. All of the windows and doors to Brockman's apartment were locked and his van was missing. Brockman was found dead in his bedroom, still sitting in his wheelchair. His head brace had been removed and placed in his lap. His wheelchair had been turned off. A pillow case was draped over his head, approximately to the bridge of his nose. Although Wakefield was missing, she had closed Brockman's bank account the previous day. The coroner conducted an autopsy and determined that Brockman probably asphyxiated. *fn1 He estimated that Brockman died on June 1, 1992.

Wakefield's sister contacted police regarding a letter she had received from Wakefield. The letter, dated June 3, 1992, begins with Wakefield confessing to the murder.

It's all ended in disaster. I did a terrible thing. I killed him -- the man I worked for, Bob -- 4 days ago. I did that to him. I'm turning myself in tomorrow. I know for sure now that I'm crazy, crazy, crazy.

Attach. to Br. of Appellant. The letter describes a fight between Brockman and Wakefield that lasted at least two days. During this fight, Wakefield denied Brockman all access to his family.

Wakefield was found in Canada, extradited to the United States, and charged with second degree murder. Western State psychiatric hospital found Wakefield paranoid and delusional but competent to stand trial.

The trial court also found her competent after pretrial hearings. During an oral ruling on this issue, the trial court indicated that Wakefield should follow the advice of her attorneys.

A great issue that looms before me this afternoon are certainly her failure to be receptive to a plea offer that would subject her to much less jeopardy than she would if she goes forward with the trial this afternoon. . . . One of the things Ms. Wakefield said to me just a few moments ago is she is not prepared to plead guilty to anything she did not do. . . . This is one decision that we can not make for our client, no matter what the cost, we simply can not make that decision and substitute our judgment for them.

I have no doubt in my mind, Ms. Wakefield, that your attorneys are absolutely as capable of guiding you along with this case as any attorneys in this jurisdiction. I can not force you to accept their advise [sic] I can simply urge that you should, but no one can force you to accept their advise [sic].

Report of Proceedings (Dec. 8, 1993) at 25-27 (emphasis added).

Approximately a week later, defense counsel informed the trial court that Wakefield was leaning toward accepting the plea offer but was afraid of being sent to a mental institution. Defense counsel explained that Wakefield probably would plead guilty to first degree manslaughter if she received an assurance from the court that she would be sentenced to a correctional facility. The trial court ceded to defense requests. In addition to explaining to Wakefield that she would be sent to a correctional facility, the trial Judge stated that she would sentence Wakefield within the standard sentencing range.

THE COURT: I can tell you this, that if the state is still interested in a plea negotiation, and I am not sure that they are at this point, but if they are interested in going along with the plea to a lesser charge, this court's sentence, this court and two other courts before me have deemed that you are competent to stand trial in this case. This court, if you were to plead guilty and you came back to this court for sentencing, or I think any other court, you would be treated as any other person who pleads guilty to that same charge is treated. You would receive a sentence that is commensurate with your offender score and the seriousness level of the charge that you have pled guilty to. I don't know the range for manslaughter 1 or 2 or whatever it is that the state has offered you, but you would be sentenced, in my opinion, in that standard range by any Judge. You would certainly be sentenced within that standard range by this court, and you would be committed to the correctional center for women at Purdy.

Report of Proceedings (Dec. 8, 1993) at 4-5 (emphasis added).

Immediately following the trial court's comments regarding a standard range sentence, Wakefield spoke with her attorneys and accepted the plea arrangement. Both the State and the trial court then engaged in separate colloquies with Wakefield to ensure the voluntariness of her plea and to apprise her of the consequences of pleading guilty -- including the possibility of a sentence outside the standard range. Wakefield stated for the record that she understood the effect of pleading guilty, including the potential for an exceptional sentence.

A sentencing hearing was held approximately a week after Wakefield pled guilty. With no criminal history and an offender score of zero, the standard sentencing range for Wakefield's first degree manslaughter conviction was 31 to 41 months' confinement. The maximum possible sentence outside the standard range was 10 years. During the sentencing phase of trial, defense counsel requested a 31-month sentence. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the State requested a sentence of 41 months. The trial court, however, imposed an exceptional sentence of 120 months' (10 years') imprisonment because of the victim's vulnerability and Wakefield's abuse of her position of trust. Addressing Wakefield, the trial court stated:

What I do find, and what I think the court cannot overlook, is the fact that you were dealing with an individual who could not resist you in any way, who could not fight back in any way, who could not yell for help, seek help, who couldn't do anything but sit there in that chair and understand, perhaps, for a period of time what you were doing to him.

For that reason the court in this case, which I am not sure I have done before, is going to impose the maximum penalty of 120 months in the Department of Corrections. I do that taking into account the fact that you won't serve 120 months, you will serve two-thirds of that. . . .

The justification for the exceptional sentence . . . is the fact that Ms. Wakefield held the position of trust with this individual, she violated that trust. He was particularly vulnerable to the conduct that caused his death, and she deliberately removed any chance or possibility that he had to seek help or to receive help from anyone on the possibility that he was alive when she left him.

Report of Proceedings (Jan. 21, 1994) at 17, 19, 21 (emphasis added). Defense counsel did not object to the exceptional sentence, nor did defense counsel point out that the Judge had previously indicated that ...


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