While handing down a 24-year prison sentence to a Battle Ground man convicted of murder, Judge Suzan Clark said she could see how the situation may have started as self-defense.
But what she couldn’t justify, she said Tuesday, was the “amount of brutality” the man inflicted as he beat an acquaintance to death with a baseball bat.
“You didn’t stop; you kept hitting him,” she told Stephen Reichow. “The threat was so far gone, but you kept hitting him.”
Reichow, 35, was convicted by a Clark County Superior Court jury last month of first- and second-degree murder and felony second-degree murder, all with a deadly weapon. The convictions stem from the Aug. 1, 2015, fatal beating of 36-year-old Brandon Maulding outside a storage warehouse in Battle Ground.
For purposes of sentencing, however, Reichow was sentenced only on the first-degree murder charge.
The jury had also found aggravating factors: Reichow acted with deliberate cruelty, and Maulding was a particularly vulnerable victim. The aggravators allowed for a sentence outside of the standard sentencing range of 22 to 28 1/2 years. However, the judge did not elect to do so.
Maulding’s mother, Linda, read a statement to the court before Reichow was sentenced, imploring the judge to give him 50 years.
“No one should ever have to die in such a barbaric way,” Linda Maulding told the court. She added that no punishment will be justice, but Reichow should be held accountable.
Her son had a “big smile and contagious laugh,” she said, and she described him as a humble man who lived simply and loved nature.
Deputy Prosecutor James Smith told the judge he understands the family’s request for a lengthy sentence, but he recommended Reichow serve 34 years. He said what struck him most about the case was the unnecessary level of violence.
During the trial, the jury heard evidence that Reichow struck Brandon Maulding 20 times in the head with the bat. The prosecution argued that some of the blows were to the back of his head, which indicated he was lying face down.
Smith said the brutality in the case rises above what is typically seen in the criminal justice system. He also argued that the jury clearly rejected Reichow’s self-defense claim.
Reichow’s defense attorney, Sean Downs, said that just because Reichow was convicted, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t acting in self-defense. The amount of force he used was just not proportionate, he said. Reichow had no prior criminal history, Downs added, and he was later diagnosed as being schizophrenic.
The entire situation, he said, was forced on Reichow.
The altercation began while the men were at the storage unit of Maulding’s girlfriend, Anne Tanninen. She received a strange phone call — later determined to be a prank — from someone talking about drugs and money. Tanninen believed she was being “gang stalked” — which can include being harassed by an organized group of people. She became upset after the call and started accusing Reichow of being involved.
Maulding had the baseball bat and was threatening him, Reichow testified at trial, so he ran away and hid underneath a nearby trailer. But when he came out and tried to leave the area, Tanninen’s vehicle came around the corner, and Maulding got out with the bat in his hand, he said.
Reichow testified that Maulding was intoxicated and charged at him with the bat. Reichow put up his hand to stop the blow from Maulding, he said, grabbed the baseball bat and yanked it away. He told the jury he believed Maulding was reaching for a knife in his pocket, so he began hitting him with the bat.
“It’s a very tragic situation. It’s very unfortunate,” Downs said at sentencing.
When it was his turn to speak, Reichow asked the judge for “extraordinary leniency.” He said he tried to run away from Maulding and that it was not a “mutual fight.” Reichow believes the attack was premeditated by Maulding and Tanninen, he said.
“Brandon Maulding chose to live by his own sword, and he died by his own sword,” Reichow said. “I greatly regret the loss of Brandon’s life. I feel for his family.
“I basically lost my life, too, in this situation,” he said.
Clark agreed that between the men’s alcohol consumption earlier that day, the prank phone call and the group’s paranoia, the situation became the “perfect storm.” She said she has never seen anything quite like it.
After sentencing, Linda Maulding said she expected Reichow to get a longer sentence and worries what he will do when he’s released.
“Hopefully, I’m wrong,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, he premeditated it.”
Reichow is appealing his convictions.
His sister, Sarah Han, said after sentencing that the family is looking forward to the appeal process.
“The nature of the case was one of self-defense,” she said. “We appreciate the court’s consideration of Stephen’s history and other factors.”