James Stidd, who last month was found guilty of killing Olympia woman Gail Doyle even though her body has never been found, was sentenced to 41 years in prison Monday by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy.
In all, Stidd, 68, was sentenced to 289 months (Judge Murphy initially said 265 months, then corrected herself) for second-degree murder, 48 months each for four counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, and 12 months for tampering with physical evidence. The total sentence comes to 493 months, or 41 years and one month.
Judge Murphy said that in addition to the jury finding Stidd guilty on all counts, they also found that he showed an egregious lack of remorse. Based on that aggravating factor, Murphy said an exceptional sentence was warranted that simply modifies the sentences to make them all consecutive rather than served all at once.
"The court believes that sentence is proportional, given Stidd's history and given the evidence presented at trial of these crimes," Murphy said.
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Despite the protracted sentence for Stidd, some members of Doyle’s family remain unsettled.
Following Monday’s hearing, Laci Doyle, Gail's daughter, said that she felt justice hadn’t been served. She said the family will continue to search for her mother until the remains are found.
Doyle’s sister, Anita Nedrow, said that while she is relieved Stidd will be put away, healing is still a long way off.
“We hunt (for Doyle’s remains) still,” Nedrow said.
Monday's sentencing capped a hearing that lasted more than three hours.
As they did throughout the trial, Doyle's family and friends filled the courtroom to near capacity. Family members also made statements to the court, including Laci, who showed photos of her mother to the judge. Attorneys for the prosecution and defense also made arguments about sentencing ranges.
Stidd, too, addressed the court. He remained defiant, saying he had nothing to do with Doyle's disappearance and accused the prosecution of lying throughout the trial. He also initially refused to sign and fingerprint a judgment and sentencing order. Stidd said he plans to appeal.
Attorneys and family speak
Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson opened the sentencing.
Jackson said Stidd and Doyle had been close friends, and that over their years-long friendship, Stidd had become part of Doyle’s family.
In his 21 years practicing as a lawyer, Jackson said, he’d never worked on a case like this.
“No one can really figure out definitively why Mr. Stidd killed Gail Doyle,” he said.
Emotions ran high when relatives of Doyle approached the stand, reading their victim impact statements aloud to a courtroom filled with tearful supporters.
“We lost parts of our hearts that can never be replaced,” Laci said. “I feel a lot more empty. She was the other half of my life. I lost life that day. I will struggle every day for the rest of my life in many ways.”
Before the judge announced her decision, the prosecution's team made a modification in the no-contact order between Stidd and Doyle’s family. They asked that if Stidd ever decides to reveal the location of Doyle’s body, that he be allowed to contact Laci.
After the prosecution ended its remarks and family members had made their statements, the court went into recess.
While being led out of the courtroom, Stidd turned to members of Doyle’s family and uttered an expletive.
When court reconvened Stidd was given a chance to address the court, he went after the prosecuting team while also maintaining his innocence.
“Mr. Jackson has done nothing but lie through this whole thing and had the officers also lie,” Stidd said.
Jackson declined to comment on Stidd’s claims.
Upon hearing the judge's sentencing decision, Stidd initially refused to sign and give his fingerprints for the sentencing order, saying he didn’t want to implicate himself in Doyle’s murder. Judge Murphy assured Stidd that his signature was not an acknowledgment of guilt, and after deliberating with his legal counsel, Larry Jefferson, he signed the order.
Jefferson had argued for the lower end of the standard sentencing range, or about 15 years. Among his arguments: Stidd was convicted of second-degree murder, not the more serious charge of first-degree murder, Jefferson said.
Stidd, a previously convicted felon, reappeared in Doyle's life in May 2016.
They were last seen together at the Boulevard Tavern in Olympia on June 2, 2016. Stidd claimed to have dropped her off in front of Aztec Lanes on Martin Way that same night.
Stidd was arrested that month in Ritzville, not far from Spokane. A warrant for Stidd’s arrest was issued after detectives found evidence at his Longhorn Loop home, south of the Olympia Regional Airport, linking him to Doyle’s disappearance.
Police found a note hanging on the front door that indicated Stidd had gone on vacation. Inside, officers and crime scene technicians located several bloody areas on the garage floor, according to court documents.
A hammer was found on a work bench in the garage. The head of the hammer tested positive for blood and was wrapped in several blond hairs, according to court documents.
Thurston County Sheriff’s Office investigators found video of Stidd visiting the Thurston County transfer station, and were confident at the time that Stidd left Doyle’s body there and that her remains were later transported to an Eastern Washington landfill.
Investigators searched for Doyle's body at the landfill, but her remains were never found.