Judge Michael Hayden says he has presided over too many second-degree-murder cases to count — but none as up close and personal as the strangling death of Nicole Pietz at the hands of her husband in January 2006.
“You were able to look into her face as you did it,” he told Martin “David” Pietz Thursday before handing him the stiffest prison sentence he could under state law: a little more than 18 years for a man who took pains to cover up the killing and evaded criminal charges for more than six years.
Noting that most second-degree-murder cases are a result of momentary anger that ends with a fatal blow or gunshot, Hayden said it took several minutes, not seconds, for Nicole “Nici” Pietz to die.
“I cannot conceive of her thoughts at that moment,” the King County Superior Court judge said. “This is the first case I’ve tried where it was so close, so personal and lasted so long.”
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Before a packed courtroom that included some of the jurors who convicted Pietz on Oct. 14 after a monthlong trial, Hayden also chastised the 36-year-old for spiking his wife’s drink with Ecstasy at a Seattle nightclub sometime before her death.
“Without her knowledge, you placed an illegal substance in her drink … to induce her to perform a public sex act on you,” the judge said.
While Pietz’s many affairs during his marriage didn’t amount to criminal conduct, Hayden — noting that Nicole Pietz had struggled with drug addiction before becoming sober — said he considered the Ecstasy incident to be a crime.
“At the very least, I regard it as an act of domestic violence against your wife,” and at worst, second-degree rape, he said. “You don’t spike an addict’s drink … You did it for your own sexual satisfaction.”
Pietz declined to make a statement before he was sentenced.
A number of Nicole Pietz’s friends and family members addressed the court, expressing anger and anguish over her death and the years it took to bring her husband to justice.
After Nicole was killed early on Jan. 28, 2006, inside the couple’s Lynnwood condo, Pietz intentionally misled her family into thinking she had relapsed into drug addiction and had simply disappeared. Her naked body was found about a week later in a wooded area in Burien, but Pietz wasn’t arrested and charged in connection with her death until March 2012.
Nicole’s mother, Gael Schneider, spoke of going to Pietz’s workplaces over the intervening years because it was the only way she could force him to speak with her after he cut contact with her family. Her husband, Rod Schneider, said his wife diligently called the case detectives on the 28th of every month for six years to make sure her daughter’s death wasn’t forgotten.
“I let David take my life for the last 7½ years, but I forgive you. I’m not going to let you take my life anymore,” Gael Schneider said. “David, I forgive you. I hope some day your family can because you didn’t just destroy my family but your own.”
Pietz, who remained stoic through most of the hearing, seemed to react only when his mother, Sandy, stepped forward to speak. She described her son as loving, outgoing and hardworking, and said he’d been involved in sports and student government and had been a youth leader in his church.
“I love my son with all my heart,” she said, saying her family continues to love and support Pietz.
His father, Martin Pietz, added: “This entire situation has been a horrible shock to us.”
Hayden said he wished he could provide closure to Nicole Pietz’s family and friends but acknowledged “that’s really beyond my powers as a judge to do.”
“The sorrow and anger I feel is palpable in this courtroom. It’s still raw” nearly eight years after Nicole Pietz’s slaying, he said.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org