OLYMPIA - A man who was pulled over in Tenino with a dead woman in his pickup was sentenced Thursday to 26 years and eight months in prison.
Thurston Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor gave the maximum sentence to Bernard Keith Howell, who earlier pleaded guilty to killing Vonda Boone, 60, on the Yelm-Tenino Trail in August. After Howell’s prison sentence, he must serve three years in community custody and receive substance-abuse treatment. He was also ordered to have no contact with 14 witnesses for life.
Howell, 27, apologized for the brutal killing during the sentencing hearing, which lasted nearly an hour.
“Your honor, God knows how sorry I am,” he said. “Christ willing, I’ll have a family someday.”
Howell said he feared for his safety and asked for a protection order.
“I hope that I will survive this prison,” he said. “Lot of guys want to get me for this.”
Tabor said any protection order would have to come from corrections officials.
He said Howell deserved the maximum sentence because of his “purposeful and deliberate” actions, despite a mental capacity that was compromised by a combination of drug use and/or mental illness. He cited evidence that Boone had languished before her death in a manner that was “cruel and brutal and bizarre.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney James Powers argued for the maximum sentence. He described Howell, a heavy methamphetamine user, as lying in wait for a victim on the trail, where police say Boone was biking or walking.
Boone, who was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, was waiting for her friends to join her.
“He chose a time when none of those persons would be there to see what he had done to Ms. Boone,” Powers said.
Police say Boone died after her throat was cut. Blunt-force injuries to her head and neck and asphyxia resulting from strangulation contributed, according to Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock.
Boone was thrown into a sleeping bag in Howell’s pickup.
Boone’s body was discovered the night of Aug. 8 when Howell approached a man in a pickup and asked for help moving her body. The man declined Howell’s request and flagged down a passing Thurston sheriff’s deputy.
The officer pulled Howell over near Parkside Elementary School in Tenino. Boone’s body was in the passenger seat, wrapped in the sleeping bag. Howell denied killing her, saying he had found her dead on the trail and was going to dispose of her body to save her family the burial expenses.
“Those efforts to hide that body, to dump that body also speaks to the brutality of the defendant,” he said.
Howell’s court-assigned attorney, Robert Jimerson, asked for a sentence of 23 years, four months – the midpoint of the possible sentencing range. He noted that Howell chose to plead guilty without benefit of a plea bargain.
“He wanted to do that to accept responsibility for what he did,” he said.
Lori Drayson, who moved with Boone from New York City shortly before her death, spoke on behalf of her friend of more than 10 years. They shared an office in New York and moved to Washington to open a healing center.
She recalled the horror of the phone call when a deputy informed her of Boone’s death. Boone was taking a “quiet, contemplative walk,” preparing to explore property to purchase.
“She was so grateful to have made this journey and loved her life in Washington,” Drayson said.
“It is hard for me to express in words the enormity this has deeply affected my life.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org