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Former JBLM colonel’s kidnapping trial goes to jury

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Updated: September 23, 2022, 1:04pm

TACOMA — A Pierce County jury on Thursday heard closing arguments in the trial of a former Joint Base Lewis-McChord colonel accused of beating his wife and threatening to kill himself in 2020 during an hours-long standoff with police.

Col. Owen Ray, 48, was formerly the chief of staff assigned to I Corps at JBLM. He was suspended shortly after the standoff and was charged the following month in Pierce County Superior Court with first-degree kidnapping, two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of felony harassment and reckless endangerment. Ray was honorably discharged last year.

Jurors went into deliberations Thursday afternoon to decide whether Ray is guilty of those charges. If convicted, Ray faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison. The standard range for sentencing extends from four years, three months in prison to 16 years, six months.

Charging documents allege Ray got into an argument with his wife, Kristin, at his family’s home in DuPont the night of Dec. 27, prompting Kristin to hide in one of their children’s bedrooms. Ray grabbed a gun from the garage and went looking for his wife, who was on the phone with 911. Records say this enraged Ray, and he allegedly threatened to kill her.

A sticking point of arguments from the prosecution and defense was the post-traumatic stress disorder Ray was diagnosed with after years of combat experience. Prosecutors contend that while PTSD might have been a factor that led to the incident, it did not excuse the defendant’s actions. They said it was Ray’s own anger that led to him terrorizing his wife and children that night.

In defense attorney Jared Ausserer’s closing remarks, he argued that the only person Ray wanted to kill that night was himself, and that his family became “unintended victims.” Ausserer repeatedly turned to quotes from 911 calls recordings as evidence.

“The only person that is going to get shot tonight is Dad,” Ausserer quoted from the recordings.

The probable cause document also alleges Ray stomped on his wife’s face and chest “over and over” with his boots. His children reportedly screamed for him not to shoot their mother or them. About 15 minutes after police were dispatched to the home, Ray allowed his wife and children to leave. Ray surrendered himself to police two hours later.

Before the jury and in court filings, Ausserer described Ray as a decorated military veteran whose eight deployments to the Middle East and across Asia during wartime left him suffering from severe and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He brought war into the house,” Ausserer said. “That was his responsibility. But the question is what’s the intended victim of that war.”

On the day of the alleged assault, Ray was “on the proverbial cliff,” Ausserer said. The colonel was on the second day of leave from work, was mentally exhausted and had been going through a divorce for the last six months. The attorney urged jurors not to let emotions overcome their rational thought process.

“This may sound crass, but if Owen Ray wanted to kill somebody, he’d kill somebody,” Ausserer said.

The colonel has extensive combat training, and when Lakewood police came to his home and got him on the phone, he had “no problem” killing police who tried to arrest him, charging documents allege.

During rebuttal argument, deputy prosecutor Loren Halstrom said the defendant’s attorneys were cherry picking quotes from 911 calls and ignoring all the facts of the case.

“Mr. Ray wants you to go back there in the jury room and envision an image of him as a commander with an American flag waving behind him,” Halstrom told the jurors. “That’s not the image of that night. The image of that night is a man consumed by so much anger that he took his handgun upstairs to show his wife who was in charge.”

Prosecutors argued that the context of the incident was not Ray’s PTSD but his own resentment toward his wife. Halstrom referred to the opinion of Dr. Brian Judd, who was ordered by the court to evaluate Ray’s competency. The attorney said that while the doctor agreed that PTSD could have been a factor in what happened, it would not have affected the defendant’s ability to form intent.

Halstrom said that if Ray was beating his wife, he wasn’t thinking about Baghdad or the stress of being former President Barack Obama’s aide, he was thinking about his wife being a “psycho-[expletive].”

The prosecutor quoted part of what Ray is overheard saying to his wife in a 911 call that night: “This is the reconciliation for what you’ve done for the last three [expletive] years. Now, let’s do this.”

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