Walla Walla man sentenced in attack at Kmart

Stephen D. Miller, who pleaded guilty to assault, will be subject to community supervision and return to mental-health counseling.

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WALLA WALLA -- A local man with mental-health issues was sentenced this morning in Superior Court to time-served for inexplicably attacking a woman at Kmart in December.

Stephen D. Miller, 57, of 1304 Ruth St., had pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to a third-degree assault charge, which was reduced in a plea agreement from second-degree assault.

Miller had served 84 days as of this morning when Judge John Lohrmann imposed that sentence allowing for Miller's release from the County Jail. The maximum Lohrmann could have imposed is 90 days under the state's standard-range sentencing laws.

Miller now is to serve a year on community supervision, with conditions, and will return to mental-health counseling.

"I'm sorry for everything's that happened," Miller told Lohrmann this morning. "I shouldn't have got out of counseling." He said he will pursue treatment at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he is employed as a respiratory therapist.

Miller wielded a knife and assaulted Dixie Aichele, 51, while they were in the Garden Center of the Kmart store at 2200 Isaacs Ave. late last year.

After he was arrested, he underwent a mental evaluation by staff members from Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake. He subsequently was found to be competent for his case to proceed, but apparently no reason for his attack on Aichele was uncovered.

His attorney, Richard Wernette, said in court today that Miller doesn't understand why it happened. "It was a bizarre and irrational act," Wernette said. "I wish we had the answers, but we don't."

Aichele attended this morning's hearing and pointed out to Lohrmann that the assault on her was unprovoked and premeditated. "It's affected my life," she said, later adding, "It's something I will think of every day for the rest of my life."

Lohrmann responded that his sentencing options under the law are limited. He also expressed hope that financially strapped local agencies assigned to help people address mental-health problems will find a solution to their lack of funding.

The attack on Aichele -- who doesn't know Miller -- occurred about 5:30 p.m. Dec. 14 when she encountered him while looking for Christmas decorations at Kmart.

He said something to her that she didn't understand. Then a short time later, he grabbed her around her waist from behind with his left arm, tried to cover her mouth with his right hand and held something hard against her cheek and eye, according to a police report filed in court.

Aichele struggled free, yelled for help and Miller ran from the scene. He was tackled at the front doors of the store by a correctional officer.

Miller acknowledged at the time he had "just attacked a lady," the police report says, but didn't provide a reason.

Aichele suffered a small cut on her left hand and a deep abrasion to her right cheek, officials said.

Police noticed a cut on Miller's right hand. A Swiss Army-style knife reportedly was located on a shelf behind where he was detained.

This morning, Lohrmann stressed to Miller the importance of him obtaining mental health assistance. "You get back into counseling or whatever program is necessary to keep you on an even keel mentally" or the results could be tragic, Lohrmann said.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319

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