EVERETT — Michele Donohue of Arlington was sentenced July 29 by Snohomish County Superior Court Judge George Bowden to 16 years in prison for murdering her husband, Byron Wright, in 2004.
Bowden’s sentence is more than the 15 years agreed to in a plea deal, but less than the maximum of 18 years. Bowden said he did that to make sure Donohue would get the maximum three years of supervision once she gets out of the women’s prison in Purdy.
Bowden said six victims filed papers with the court, and a recurring theme of their statements was that Donohue should have been charged with first-degree murder. They thought that justice had not been done.
The judge explained he can only sentence according to the agreed upon guilty plea of second-degree murder. He said he’s not sure if the state could have proved pre-meditation.
“She needs the maximum time regardless,” Bowden said. “She needs to be locked up.”
The judged sentenced her to 192 months. The plea deal was for 180.
“One more year is scant solace for the family of the victim,” Bowden admitted.
He gave Donohue credit for pleading guilty, accepting responsibilty and not having any prior criminal record.
But he added it was “distressing” that Donohue allowed Wright to bleed out. He said it “concerned him greatly” that she kept the killing secret for almost 10 years, and that she put great effort into disposing of the body.
He said Wright was a good, hard-working man, and that Donohue acquired and disposed of his assets.
“I can’t undo that,” he said, but he did say Donohue would have to pay restitution.
Donohue apologized to Wright’s family, saying she was “so very sorry” for taking his life. She talked quietly, saying there was nothing she could do to ease their pain, in between sniffles.
“I did not plan this,” she insisted.
Donohue said she has been getting counseling and realizes now Wright’s death could have been prevented. She said by learning to deal with her anger she could have dealt with their marital problems.
Wright’s sister, Sharon Diehl, spoke on behalf of the family. She said they loved Wright; he was “kind, funny, loving.”
Diehl said Donohue manipulated not only Wright but the entire family, and included the court system, too. She said the family can’t understand how Donohue could only get 15 years for this “horrific thing.”
“Think of what you did and how many lives you changed,” Diehl said to Donohue.
To Judge Bowden Diehl asked “for as much time in prison as the law allows.”
Donohue was able to get away with the murder for 9 1/2 years for a number of reasons:
• She lied to friends, family and Wright’s employer of 23 years, Boeing, saying he had run off with another woman.
• No one reported him missing because she isolated Wright from his family for years.
• Wright was not very social so friends weren’t following up wondering what had happened to him.
• No one came forward to talk to police about any suspicions.
• The small circle of Donohue’s friends who did know of the murder did not say anything.
• Donohue filed for divorce by absentia, and it was granted when Wright didn’t show up, so she inherited almost everything.
• A missing person’s report filed in 2009 fell through the cracks.
• Police didn’t become involved until years later because the story about Wright leaving with another woman wasn’t questioned.
Donohue was caught only when an inmate was told a story about a body being buried at 8121 Wade Road, between Arlington and Marysville. When the sheriff’s department checked it out, Wright’s dismembered body was found.
Diehl, the sister with whom Wright had kept in tenuous contact, didn’t send him a birthday card until 2006, two years after he was killed. That’s when Donohue told her Wright had run off with another woman.
Even then Diehl didn’t attempt to file a missing persons report until 2009, around the same time she started a Facebook page devoted to finding her brother. Now people find it suspicious that Wright left his classic car collection to Donohue, but no one brought it up before.
In a nutshell, the story goes like this, according to probable cause papers:
A scorned or abused woman, depending on which account you believe, stabs her husband, cuts him up with an axe and knife in her kitchen, then buries the dismembered body under 36 yards of dirt. She collects his money then tells her next husband about the killing. He gets some cronies to re-bury the body in concrete. After a few years she gets mad at the next husband for getting a girl pregnant and moving her onto the property. Finally one of the cronies unwittingly tells a jail informant about Wright’s killing.
Donohue was arrested Feb. 13 when Wright’s body pieces were dug up. She was held on $1 million bail because of the “cold and calculating behavior after the offense, the years of hiding evidence, recruiting others to assist in the covering up the murder of Wright, and her recent discussion about needing her current husband to disappear and possibly be murdered,” court papers say.
Donohue pleaded guilty to second-degree murder July 11. Prosecutor Cindy Larson said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Michele of first-degree murder that would require premeditation
Donohue never specifically said what her motive was in the killing. It could have been financial, Wright really did have a mistress or that he was abusive.
Donohue told new husband Joel Donohue in 2005 that she killed Wright because he was emotionally and physically abusive. In the heat of an argument, Michele stabbed Wright multiple times in the head and neck. She dismembered Wright’s body in her kitchen and buried his remains. Her own daughter, Heather Wagonblast, disputes the mistress and abuse stories and said Wright was a nice man.
The remains of Wright were initially buried in a “shallow grave,” next to a shed on Michele’s property. She then had 36 yards of dirt placed over the grave to create a “hill for her daughter to sled on when it snowed.”
Donohue knew of the body’s location and recruited two cronies to help relocate the body, re-bury it and cover it with concrete so a “ground penetrating radar” couldn’t detect it. A large “blue tote” filled with concrete concealed Wright’s torso and head, with two smaller bags containing the limbs.
Michael Huselein, one of the friends who helped re-bury Byron’s body, unwittingly told a jail informant in December. Police issued a search warrant for Michele’s property on Feb. 13, 2014. Police broke apart the concrete and found Wright’s remains.