Tashia Stuart sentenced to 45 years in prison

She could be seek release in 25 years

Tri-City HeraldSeptember 4, 2013 

— Convicted killer Tashia Stuart told a judge Wednesday she didn't "do anything wrong to deserve this fate worse than death," then turned her anger on her father and accused him of lying so she would be locked away possibly for the rest of her life.

A soft-spoken Stuart started her nearly 15-minute speech saying she misses her mother terribly and still loved her no matter what, then raised her voice as she blamed her mother's drinking, medication use and mental health issues for the March 2011 shooting that ended her life.

Stuart claimed Judy Hebert used to have "screaming rages and fits," and her father abandoned her when she desperately needed him, and questioned why no one ever called the police if they really believed she was plotting to kill her mom.

Telling the court she is forever broken-hearted, Stuart said "without their lies and deceit, there is no case against me. I hope that I will get a new trial so that the truth really will come out."

Judge Cameron Mitchell denied that request, saying the defense didn't raise any new issues that caused the court to reconsider earlier rulings.

He then ordered Stuart to spend 45 years in prison, with a 25-year mandatory minimum that must be served before a state board will even consider her release.

"The court believes that this is a very heinous, permanent crime," Mitchell said.

Hebert's loved ones and friends, along with Pasco police and a couple jurors from Stuart's trial, were in court for the sentencing.

After the hearing, Rolfe Hebert said he wasn't surprised that his daughter directed her outburst at him. He said the truth has always escaped Stuart and that nothing was ever her fault in her life.

Rolfe Hebert responded out loud with, "You're a liar," when Stuart turned on him during the hearing.

He earlier told the judge that he only wants two things -- to have Judy back and for the nightmares to stop for his granddaughter. "There's nothing I will say here today that will make that happen," he said. "Judy was a loving, wonderful person. She had a heart of gold and she always opened her door to me."

"The only thing that I could ask is that the court extend to Tashia the same level of compassion that she extended to Judy on March 3, 2011," he added.

Stuart did not testify at her Franklin County Superior trial, which ended two months ago with guilty verdicts for first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

She said Hebert was trying to attack her with a machete and she acted in self-defense when she fatally shot Hebert inside her mother's Salmon Drive home. Hebert also had a cut wound on her head that was made by the machete after she fell to the ground.

Stuart's then-7-year-old daughter was in the home when her grandmother was killed.

Prosecutors said Stuart had been planning to kill her mother for a few weeks, trying to get access to Hebert's safe where she kept her will and pushing a heavy bin of books from the garage rafters onto Hebert's head.

Stuart is planning to appeal the convictions.

She begged Mitchell on Wednesday not to place a restraining order on her for her daughter, who turns 10 at the end of the month.

"I would rather be dead than to never have my daughter or her love ever again," Stuart said, wiping her eyes with a tissue. "She's the best thing that I have ever done or that has ever happened to me, and now my dad has taken her away from me. To me that is a fate worse than death."

The girl is being raised by her father, Charles Adney, but also has regular visits with her grandfather and his wife, Rolfe and Nicola Hebert. "My baby is going to end up a sad, suicidal kid just like me. ... It's not fair what anyone is doing to me," Stuart said. "My husband (Todd Stuart) and I never did anything to mom except love her. ... She had nothing monetary we wanted, just her love and her happiness."

Adney wrote a letter to the court, explaining that he couldn't attend the hearing because when he's gone for a long period of time, his daughter knows where he is at and it causes more pain and turmoil for her.

Adney said his daughter and her Nana had a very special relationship, and that Stuart used the girl as a tool to get money or something else she wanted. It was Hebert's generosity that got her killed, he said.

He said he is trying to help the girl cope with the loss of her Nana, while also trying to heal from seeing Hebert shot three times and then hit with a machete.

"How do I help my 9-year-old daughter try to understand the pure evilness of this crime?" Adney wrote. "What do I say to (his daughter) when she asks why her mother had to kill Nana that loved her so much? How do I ease my daughter's mind that she was not responsible for Judy's murder?"

Nicola Hebert said her husband's granddaughter confides in her about that horrible days, and the conversation always ends up in tears with them holding each other.

The girl "says she should have taken the bullet. What do I say to that?" Nicola Hebert said. "What do I say to this precious little girl when she says ... her Nana was asking for her help, and why couldn't she help her?"

Stuart's daughter can't erase the vivid memory of seeing her Nana's blood all over the wall, Nicola Hebert said. "I can't seem to grasp that a 7-year-old girl not only had to witness that, but that she had to watch her Nana die and seeing her mother do it," Nicola Hebert said.

John Coffey, Stuart's ex-fiance who first met Judy Hebert in 1994, spoke about the victim's unconditional love and self-sacrificing nature. He said Hebert was capable of getting annoyed and angry like most other people, "but she always forgave and always gave."

Coffey, who remained close friends with Rolfe Hebert, said he had the gruesome task of helping clean up the house after the shooting, which there was no reason for in the first place.

"The loss of Judy was not necessary," he said. "I hope and I know that Judy is in a better place today."

Stuart had no criminal history before this case.

The main murder charge included the allegations that Stuart used a firearm and that the crime was against a family member.

The verdicts also included aggravating factors -- Stuart acted with deliberate cruelty, the crime was within sight and sound of a minor child, and it involved a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant said it was clear from all the evidence that it was a premeditated and egregious crime and asked for a 60-year prison term, above the total standard range of 40 to 51 1/2 years.

Defense attorneys Peter Connick and Bob Thompson said a more reasonable sentence was at the bottom of the range.

Judge Mitchell ordered her to serve 20 years for the murder and 15 years for the attempted murder, both at the bottom of the range for the crimes. They must be done back-to-back, in addition to a mandatory five-year term for using a gun in the crime and another five years for shooting Hebert with a child nearby.

Prosecutors apparently are still working out how much Stuart should reimburse the state's Crime Victims Compensation Program. An initial amount of $5,400 was crossed off on court documents and will be determined at a later time.

But Stuart was told she must pay $180,434 for her court-appointed attorneys and other defense costs, along with other fines and fees.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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