OLYMPIA – A judge sentenced a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder to more than 14 years in prison today for strangling his wife, also an Iraq War veteran.
Sheldon Plummer, 28, earlier had pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder, domestic violence, for the February homicide of his wife, Winter, 27, at their apartment near Lacey.
Sheldon Plummer had returned from his third deployment from Iraq in August 2009. During the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he saw combat serving in the same convoy from which Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch was captured, said his attorney, James Dixon.
During an emotional hearing before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy, Winter Plummer’s family members, including her father, Carlos Goseyun, spoke of the loss of their loved one, who grew up on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona and joined the Army to better her life.
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Family members said they wanted Sheldon Plummer to serve more than the 14 years, four months recommended by both Dixon and the prosecutor as part of his plea agreement. Plummer had no prior criminal history, and his sentence was in the middle of the standard range for a second-degree murder conviction.
Sheldon and Winter Plummer’s daughter, Taylor, 2, is living with Winter’s sister in Arizona. Carlos Goseyun told Plummer in court Friday that “Taylor will know that he is the killer of our daughter.”
Winter Plummer’s grandmother, Andrea Goseyun, broke into tears in court, describing how she taught Winter the Apache language and traditions. She spoke about how Winter was a great athlete, excelling at volleyball, basketball and softball. She also said her granddaughter was an outstanding soldier.
“I loved her as much as my own daughter, and today I miss her,” Andrea Goseyun said. “I know that I will never be able to speak to her again.”
Thurston County sheriff’s detectives began investigating Winter Plummer’s disappearance April 18, after one of Sheldon Plummer’s friends, also an Army soldier, called the sheriff’s office to say Sheldon Plummer had called him and “wanted advice on how to dispose of a body,” court papers state.
When detectives spoke to Sheldon Plummer, he said that about a month earlier, his wife had packed three suitcases and left after an argument.
But Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Chris Mealy has said that Plummer’s timeline of when his wife left was inconsistent.
Detectives later found that Plummer had pawned his wife’s jewelry. Detectives also thought it was suspicious that Winter Plummer’s car still was parked at the apartment complex at The Villages at Nisqually Ridge Apartments. And they found it odd that she would abandon her daughter.
A prosecutor later said Plummer had disposed of some of his wife’s belongings to make it appear as though she had left. Sheldon Plummer even sent text messages from her cell phone to her family members in Arizona in an effort to make them think she was alive.
After detectives initially interviewed Sheldon Plummer, he removed his wife’s body from a storage unit and placed it in his garage, court papers state. Soon thereafter, he admitted to killing his wife. He told detectives he acted in self-defense after she attacked him with a knife during an argument, court papers state. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jodilyn Erikson-Muldrew said in court Friday that the medical evidence contradicted that claim.
Winter Plummer’s older sister Adrienne Vaughn, who is taking care of Taylor, said that after her sister’s death, Sheldon Plummer’s new girlfriend moved into the apartment.
“Her death has torn my heart out and broken my soul,” she said. Vaughn also read a statement written by Winter Plummer’s mother, who was not at Friday’s court hearing. In the statement, she said that while Winter Plummer lived in Washington, she prayed that her husband would be OK while he served in Iraq.
“Little did she know you would come home just to kill her,” Vaughn said, reading from her mother’s statement.
Dixon said a psychiatric nurse practitioner evaluated Sheldon Plummer and determined that he suffers from PTSD. Sheldon Plummer joined the Army at 19, and during the Iraq invasion he saw “many of his friends killed and injured,” Dixon said today, reading from Dr. April Gerlock’s report.
Gerlock works at the VA Hospital at American Lake in Tacoma. Dixon hired her as an expert in Shelton Plummer’s criminal case.
Gerlock’s report also states that Sheldon Plummer suffered a concussion during his first tour of Iraq and “was exposed to hostile fire, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades,” Dixon said.
Dixon noted that Gerlock’s report says people who suffer from PTSD can experience a “heightened sense of arousal to an actual or perceived threat,” and that they “may respond with aggression in response to that threat.”
In a phone interview Friday, Gerlock cautioned that Plummer’s case is complex. She added that she thinks PTSD contributed to Plummer’s actions.
Not all soldiers coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, and most who do never commit violent crimes, Gerlock said.
It’s difficult for soldiers to shift from that “hyperawareness of ongoing danger” during combat tours to day-to-day civilian life, she said.
Gerlock said she sees soldiers with PTSD every day. Many do not want to talk about it, especially if they want to continue with their careers in the military, she said.
“We’re doing a lot for the recently deployed, but they have a lot on their plates,” she said. “It’s tough. It’s so hard on these folks. They’re young, they want to get a family going and they just keep getting deployed.”
Jeremy Pawloski: firstname.lastname@example.org