Supporters of Laura J. Jonston said Thursday that the Sumner woman deserved leniency in the slaying of her mother in February 2009.
Jonston, 21, suffered years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of Shirley Miluk, they testified at her sentencing in Pierce County Superior Court.
She acted out of a sense of survival when she stabbed Miluk 12 times in their apartment on 153rd Avenue Court East, they told Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck.
“There must come a time when someone who suffers can suffer no more,” said Jonston’s friend, Faith Fad-dis , in asking for a low-end sentence of 12 years, three months in prison.
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Van Doorninck acknowledged Jonston’s history of abuse but handed down a high-end sentence of 20 years, four months in state prison.
The judge called Miluk’s murder particularly brutal and said it was troubling that Jonston can’t explain what set her off that night.
“It wasn’t one stab,” van Doorninck said. “It was multiple stabs.”
Jonston pleaded guilty in June to one count of second-degree murder. She was set to claim self-defense at trial but decided to plead guilty.
Investigators said Jonston and her mother argued the night of her murder about whether the defendant could have a friend over.
At some point, the argument turned violent and Jonston grabbed at least one knife, possibly two, and chased her mother across the apartment, stabbing as she went, deputy prosecutor Jared Ausserer said Thursday.
Evidence showed Miluk, 60, tried to run out the back door as she was being attacked and might have been stabbed as she lay on her back on the living room floor, Ausserer said.
No amount of abuse excused what Jonston did to Miluk, who was stabbed in the chest, leg and back and suffered defensive wounds on her hands, he said.
“She butchered her mother,” Ausserer said in asking for the high-end sentence.
Jonston’s attorney, Mary K. High, countered that there was evidence Miluk attacked Jonston with a decorative rooster before her client grabbed a knife to defend herself.
Jon Conte, a professor of social work at the University of Washington in Seattle, testified on Jonston’s behalf.
Conte, who previously interviewed Jonston for the defense, said it was his opinion that she is “a victim of longtime chronic child maltreatment.” Jonston told him her mother had threatened to kill her in the past and frequently demeaned her, Conte said.
Jonston believed Miluk was “untouchable” and that she’d never escape her influence or abuse, he said.
When everyone else was finished talking about her, Jonston had her own say.
Frequently wiping at tears, she talked about living with an alcoholic mother who beat her, called her names, told her she wasn’t good enough.
“I learned at a very young age that my mother hated me,” she said.
She said she didn’t remember much from the night Miluk died, only plunging a knife into her mother twice before “everything got fuzzy.” Jonston said she was afraid Miluk would kill her and her young daughter that night.
The next thing she recalled was seeing her mother on the floor covered in blood and “that there was no more life in her eyes,” Jonston said.
She apologized for causing pain to her family and said she forgave her mother, whom she hopes to see again one day “in a place where there’s no more pain and no more sorrow.”