A man who recently pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 1989 slaying of a Federal Way woman has been sentenced to five years in prison.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Rosanne Buckner handed down the sentence to Dontese R. White on Friday. He pleaded guilty last month to second-degree manslaughter in the Dec. 30, 1989 shooting death of Kathleen Graham, 47.
Police said Graham was riding in a car driven by a man looking to buy drugs from White and another man in Tacoma when a dispute broke out. Prosecutors contend White fired a shot into the car, which hit Graham in the chest. In his plea paperwork, White claimed it was his acquaintance who fired the fatal shot.
White had long been a suspect in Graham’s death, but prosecutors didn’t charge him until October 2011 when they received new information that marked him as the shooter.
Relatives and friends of Graham wrote several letters to Buckner in which they described the victim as a hardworking person who was the focal point of a large family. Her murder caused pain and turmoil that continues today, they said.
“I’ve spent 22 years on a roller coaster of doing really well or really bad, and I honestly believe that it’s because of the trauma and shock I suffered from her death,” said Kathleen Marie Sutherland, Graham’s daughter.
Graham’s grandson, Jason Blanchet, was 9 years old when his grandmother was killed. Blanchet wrote to Buckner that he’s forgiven White.
“I feel bad that Dontese felt that this was his only path,” Blanchet said. “I want to tell Dontese he can choose another path and have Jesus in his life and bring him peace.”
White previously offered Graham’s family an apology, writing in his plea paperwork he was sorry “for the heartbreak they have suffered over the past 20-plus years.”
The conviction was White’s second strike under Washington’s “three strikes you’re out” law. He previously was convicted of second-degree murder in a gang-related shooting in 1992 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.