YAKIMA — Michael and Dorothy Nickoloff’s killers will be released from state prison in five years, a Yakima County Superior Court judge ruled.
Originally sentenced to two consecutive life-without-parole sentences each, Russell Duane McNeil and Herbert “Chief” Rice Jr. were given concurrent 40-year sentences on their aggravated first-degree murder convictions. As part of a deal brokered between prosecutors and the men’s attorneys, the pair will remain under the jurisdiction of a state sentencing board for the rest of their lives.
McNeil and Rice were both 17 when they killed the Nickoloffs in their Parker home in a brutal home-invasion robbery in January 1988. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that life-without-parole sentences were an unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment” for juveniles.
Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic said the resentencing agreement was the hardest decision he’s had to make in his career, and that he consulted with both the Nickoloff family and former Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Sullivan, who oversaw the initial prosecution.
“This would never have been made as an offer if I didn’t have (the family’s) support,” Brusic said.
He said Sullivan also gave Brusic his blessing to proceed with the deal.
Nickoloff family members also urged Judge Kevin Naught to approve the agreement to give the family closure and allow them to move on from being known primarily as crime victims.
“We don’t always get what we want, but we usually get what we need,” Michael Nickoloff, one of the Nickoloff’s grandchildren, said in a written statement Brusic read in court. “We hope we get what we need.”
Rice and McNeil, in separate hearings, apologized to the family and expressed hope that they would heal.
“I have been in prison for 35 years, my way of giving back to the universe what I have taken is helping people,” Rice said. “I apologize to all of you in this room today.”
“Mike and Dorothy were the most undeserving people who should be taken away from family. How do you forgive somebody for this?” McNeil said.