(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)Buy this photo
Jurors found Dennis Wolter guilty Thursday of the first-degree aggravated murder of his estranged girlfriend, Kori Fredericksen, in May 2011.
Attorneys, friends and family hurried into Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis’ courtroom at about 1 p.m. Thursday for the verdict. Jurors reached the verdict after about four hours of deliberations, which began late Wednesday afternoon.
Jurors said the murder was aggravated for three reasons: Fredericksen had a restraining order against Wolter, she would have been a witness in a state criminal domestic violence case, and he used a deadly weapon.
Wolter, 46, was also found guilty of tampering with a witness, Dannielle Williams, to whom he confessed the crime.
Wolter stood motionless next to his defense attorney. His sister and other supporters were silent.
Fredericksen’s sister, Tammi Murphy, cried and hugged her friends and family inside the courtroom after she heard the verdict. Outside the courtroom, she jumped up and down and personally thanked prosecutors and jurors.
“I’m never going to get what I want, which is my sister, but this is the best I could hope for,” Murphy said. “The jury made the right decision. That is a very smart jury.”
Fredericksen’s sister-in-law, Cassie Perkins, also cried. Her voice trembled as she whispered, “justice.”
Murphy said she was eager to share the news with their mother in South Dakota and Fredericksen’s three children, ages 23, 16 and 10.
First-degree aggravated murder is Washington’s only capital crime, but prosecutors aren’t seeking the death penalty. That leaves only one sentence option: life in prison without the possibility of release. Wolter’s sentencing is scheduled for 1 p.m. June 24.
Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik said he didn’t seek the death penalty because of Wolter’s documented brain damage. A defense-commissioned MRI showed that Wolter has brain damage, though Golik said he was never convinced that the brain damage interfered with Wolter’s ability to premeditate as the defense asserted. Nevertheless, under the circumstances, Golik said he anticipated that the state Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court would have overturned a death penalty on appeal.
Wolter was convicted of stabbing Fredericksen more than 70 times in his Vancouver home, 1205 W. 39th St., on May 25, 2011. Wolter was pulled over for speeding early the next morning, and police found him and his blue pickup covered in blood. Fredericksen’s body was found later that day down a ravine on East Evergreen Highway, about a mile from where Wolter was stopped.
The only issue at dispute in the trial was whether Wolter premeditated the crime, a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction.
Wolter’s attorney, Therese Lavallee, acknowledged that the killing happened, but she argued that it wasn’t premeditated because Wolter has diminished mental capacity from his brain damage.
Diminished capacity is different from an insanity defense, which is difficult to successfully argue in Washington state.
Lavallee and defense experts said fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and a traumatic brain injury at age 18 caused Wolter’s brain damage. One defense expert testified that his brain functions at the level of a 12-year-old.
Golik pointed to multiple actions that, he said, showed Wolter could and did premeditate Fredericksen’s murder. For instance, before the murder, Wolter made veiled threats against the victim in a note and in a conversation with a bank teller. He also used five knives to kill Fredericksen, giving him moments to reflect on what he was doing, Golik said. He also told friends afterward that he wasn’t sorry for killing her, Golik said.
“We did think fetal alcohol syndrome was probably a factor, but he was not impaired as far as his decision (to kill Fredericksen). He was able to premeditate,” said juror Randy Seynaeve of Vancouver.
Juror Rian Singh of Vancouver said she felt there were multiple times when Wolter premeditated the crime before and during the murder.
“His anger toward her and the fact more knives were sought out” were some of the factors that convinced her that the murder was premeditated, she said.
Seynaeve said the four-week trial built a bond among the jurors.
“It was hard,” Seynaeve said. “It was just a horrific crime.”