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July 26, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Bellevue man gets 25 years for hatchet slaying of sleeping wife

A 72-year-old Bellevue man who was convicted of killing his wife with a hatchet while she slept in bed last year was sentenced this afternoon to 25 years in prison.

When James  Schumacher turned himself in to Bellevue police in March 2012 he admitted that he had picked the lock of his wife’s bedroom, killed her and then hid her body under the bed.

At his trial, however, his defense attorney argued that Schumacher was suffering from dementia and untreated diabetes. His attorney had asked for an unusually lenient prison sentence of two years.

Prosecutors, however, asked for the exceptionally long sentence of 25 years, saying the murder was the culmination of nearly a half-decade of ongoing verbal, mental and physical abuse.

In addition to convicting Schumacher of second-degree murder, King County Superior Court jurors found that  he had used a deadly weapon in the attack and that the slaying was part of an ongoing pattern of domestic violence.

A standard sentence range for second-degree murder is 12 to 20 years, prosecutors said.

According to police and prosecutors, Schumacher picked the lock on his wife’s bedroom door sometime between March 19 and 21, 2012, struck her nine times in the head with a hatchet and placed her body under her bed. He then packed his car, withdrew thousands of dollars from his bank account and took his wife’s Pomeranian to a kennel, all in anticipation of fleeing, prosecutors said.

Instead, he surrendered to police.

In 2010, Jean Schumacher sought a protection order after her husband was arrested for pushing her with so much force that she hit her back and head on the dining-room floor, according to the petition. She required medical attention and said the reason for that assault was that she had accidentally knocked over her husband’s box of Cheerios.

She alleged in her petition that while working for Boeing, her husband drank excessively and she feared he’d lose his job because he frequently called in sick. After he retired at age 62, the abuse intensified and the intervening years became “nightmares to me,” Jean Schumacher wrote.

She described her husband’s bizarre behavior — he drove around with his dead parents’ ashes in his car for years, collected plastic forks, spoons and shopping bags, and refused to bathe for weeks at a time, according to her petition.

Her daughter wrote of “living in terror” of Schumacher: “I often attempted to escape him by locking myself in the bathroom, basement or my bedroom. He would then either pick the door lock or break the door jam while screaming at me and calling me vulgar names,” she wrote in support of her mother’s petition for the protection order.

A King County Superior Court judge granted the protection order, court records show. The following month, Jean Schumacher asked that the order be modified, allowing her and her husband to talk on the phone and meet once a week to discuss finances and other household matters, according to the records. That request was also granted.

The protection order was terminated in July 2012 at Jean Schumacher’s request, court records show. Her finances were dwindling and she was overwhelmed trying to take care of the house by herself, she wrote.

“Mr. Schumacher and I are in our declining years with health issues,” she wrote, “and hopefully this very unfortunate separation has proven to be beneficial to our marriage as a learning experience and a dedication to respect each other and live out the rest of our lives in a contented and peaceable manner.”


Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: domestic violence, homicide, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office


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