COUPEVILLE — Peggy Sue Thomas, the former beauty queen and millionaire’s ex-wife who just weeks ago was facing decades behind bars for luring a man to his death in 2003, was led out of an Island County courtroom in handcuffs Friday to begin serving a four-year prison term.
Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock’s sentence disappointed the family and friends of victim Russel Douglas, but was part of a plea agreement with Island County prosecutors who deemed trying Thomas on a first-degree murder charge too risky. Instead, they offered to recommend a four-year sentence in exchange for last month’s guilty plea to first-degree rendering criminal assistance in Douglas’ murder.
Had she been convicted of the murder charge, Thomas could have faced up to 45 years in prison. James Huden, her former boyfriend, was sentenced last year to 80 years for first-degree murder in shooting Douglas on a lonely Whidbey Island road two days after Christmas in 2003.
“She has escaped a major-league crime for a minor-league sentence,” said Jim Douglas, the victim’s father, said in court Friday via Skype.
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Thomas, 47, remained silent during Friday’s sentencing hearing despite Hancock’s urgings to open up about the motive for the crime.
“I call on her to give a full account of what she knows,” Hancock said. “Without this information there will always be a cloud over this. If Ms. Thomas does not tell everything she knows, it is only fair she be tormented the rest of her life by what she knows.”
Gail O’Neal, the victim’s mother, looked directly at Thomas and begged her to talk about what really happened. Thomas looked back politely, the same expression she offered Douglas’ other relatives.
Thomas was accused of plotting with Huden, her former lover, to kill Douglas. Thomas, a former beautician, had once worked at a salon owned by Douglas’ wife.
According to charging documents, Thomas lured Douglas to an ambush with promises of a Christmas gift.
The motive remains murky. But Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said Douglas may have been killed because Thomas and Huden believed he had been abusing his wife and children.
Thomas’ case has drawn national attention, which was reflected by the media that crowded into the courthouse. Among those in the courtroom Friday was true-crime author Ann Rule, who reportedly plans a book on the homicide.
Much of the coverage has focused on Thomas’ background and her win in the 2009 Ms. Washington pageant.
As a teenager, Thomas went to beauty school before joining the Navy, where she was an aircraft mechanic, and then later worked in an auto-repair shop and as a limousine driver, according to published reports.
She was once married to Alaska oil millionaire Mark Allen, whose horse, Mine That Bird, won the 2009 Kentucky Derby, the Seattle Weekly reported.
Police began investigating Thomas in May 2004 because her cellphone number had appeared in Douglas’ cellphone log days before his murder.
Thomas told police that she was a friend of the slain man and his wife, and that she had called him to arrange the delivery of a Christmas gift, according to court charges.
In July 2004, a Florida man contacted investigators to say that his friend, Huden, had told him he had killed a man on Whidbey Island. The tipster told police that Huden was having an extramarital affair with a woman named “Peggy,” according to charging documents.
Huden was arrested in Mexico in June 2011, and Thomas was arrested a month later in Farmington, N.M., on her $500,000 houseboat named Off the Hook.
Huden refused to testify against Thomas, even declining an offer from the prosecution that would have lessened his sentence, according to news sources. He also refused to disclose the motive for the slaying.
On Friday, Craig Platt, Thomas’ attorney, complimented Banks for having the courage to drop the murder case. Though Platt put on a lengthy presentation in court designed to show his client’s innocence, he said that he also supported the four-year sentence.
“She’s not this headline-grabbing siren, this ‘Lorelei’ who lures people to their deaths,” Platt said. “She works, she provides, she’s a great mother.”
Platt said that Thomas feels terrible for what happened to Douglas.
But Jim Douglas, the victim’s father, called Thomas “the most despicable of the human species.”
“You’re not a victim, you’re a predator,” he said.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.