WALLA WALLA -- The suspect in September's slaying of an 18-year-old woman in the vicinity of the former Blue Mountain Mall faces more than 10 years behind bars after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
Angela D. Effinger, 30, entered the guilty plea Thursday afternoon in Superior Court to the charge that includes a finding she intended to kill Audrey Brewer when she stabbed her during a fight about 1:15 a.m. on Sept. 6 in the Sears parking lot.
The knife wound Brewer suffered pierced the aorta just above her heart and she was pronounced dead at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.
Although Effinger pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with the prosecution to reduce her case from first-degree murder, she didn't admit she committed the crime as charged.
Her attorney, Jim Barrett, read in court her written statement: "I do not believe I am guilty of this offense in that in no way did I intend to cause the death of Audrey Brewer, but I understand that my actions did so, and therefore, in order to take advantage of the prosecutor's offer, I plead guilty."
Had the case gone to trial and the jury believed Effinger didn't intentionally cause Brewer's death, she wouldn't have been convicted of any degree of murder, but possibly of some degree of manslaughter.
Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle pointed out this morning that first-degree manslaughter, which alleges killing someone with criminal recklessness, carries a standard-range sentence of 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years. Second-degree manslaughter -- causing a death through criminal negligence -- results in a prison term of one year and nine months to two years and three months.
The standard-range penalty for second-degree murder is 10 years and three months to 18 years and four months. Effinger will be sentenced later after a presentence investigation is completed.
In the plea agreement with Effinger -- who has no criminal history -- Nagle is recommending she be ordered to serve the low end of the range and he won't object to the defense asking for a lower-than-standard-range sentence. Judge John Lohrmann isn't bound by any recommendation or request.
First-degree murder -- with a penalty of 20 to nearly 27 years -- includes an allegation that a killing not only was intentional, but premeditated.
Nagle explained this week that he agreed to reduce the charge to second-degree because even though Effinger armed herself with a knife, proving premeditation could have been difficult had the case gone to trial.
"Just because she intended to stab the victim doesn't mean that we would be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury that she had premeditated intent to kill the victim," Nagle said.
He added that Effinger's guilty plea precludes any defenses she could have raised at a trial, including alcohol-induced diminished capacity and issues such as who started the altercation and possibly self-defense.
Police said Effinger was upset because her former boyfriend, Andrae T. Jackson, 24, had started a relationship with Brewer. The women reportedly agreed to meet in the parking lot to fight.
Before arriving, Effinger had armed herself with a kitchen knife and, in a text message to Jackson, allegedly threatened to "scalp" Brewer, according to a police report filed in court.
Effinger claims that in the parking lot, Brewer confronted her with a clenched fist, so Effinger began punching first and Brewer started punching back.
Effinger then reached into her pants pocket, grabbed the knife and swung at Brewer's right shoulder, the police report says.
Effinger reportedly left and drove home, where she was located and taken into custody.
Terry McConn can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8319.