Vancouver woman gets 10 years for trying to kill then-husband

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A Vancouver woman was sentenced Wednesday to more than 10 years in prison for attempting to shoot her then-husband to death while he was lying in bed.

In an agreement with prosecutors, Gayle Bethke, 62, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Clark County Superior Court to one count of second-degree attempted murder. In exchange, Deputy Prosecutor Jennifer Nugent dropped a charge of first-degree attempted murder, which carries a sentence of more than 16 years in prison.

Bethke apologized Wednesday to her ex-husband, Roger Bethke, and his two sons. She said her actions spiraled out of control during a drinking binge.

"I was on a downward spiral, and I felt hopeless," she said Wednesday.

"I'm just glad no one is hurt," she added.

Bethke admitted to being an alcoholic and to feeling suicidal on the night of Sept. 21, 2012, when she attempted to kill her husband at their home in the Burnt Bridge Creek neighborhood. She said she had gone to see a mental health counselor prior to the incident.

That night, she said, she and Roger Bethke had dinner together and then walked their four dogs.

Later, they got into a disagreement while they were in bed discussing getting a divorce, Nugent said.

Roger Bethke heard her go downstairs, return to the bedroom and then rummage for something inside a plastic bag, the prosecutor said.

She then approached him, yanked the blanket off, and pointed a pistol at his head, Nugent said. Roger Bethke was able to wrestle the gun away, but she repeatedly threatened to kill him.

Then she left the house and drove to Skamania County, where she called her daughter and told her that the police weren't going to take her alive, Nugent said.

Authorities there apprehended her on Sept. 22 following a pursuit and five-hour standoff.

After her arrest, Roger Bethke found a letter among her belongings, Nugent said. The letter stated that she planned to kill Roger and then herself, Nugent said.

Her attorney, Therese Lavallee, said Gayle Bethke had a career as a licensed practical nurse and no criminal history before her alcoholism "took over her life" in 2009 and she stopped working.

Court documents indicate she habitually drank a pint of vodka every day.

She was hospitalized twice in 2009 and 2010 for suicide attempts, Lavallee said. After the second attempt, she stopped drinking for awhile but returned to the habit in June 2012 during a stressful period in her life, Lavallee said.

Judge Barbara Johnson sentenced Bethke to 128½ months in prison with credit for 571 days served. She also will be required to serve three years of probation and have mental health and alcohol abuse treatment.