Rebeca Vandeventer’s three young children weren’t in court Tuesday to watch her killer get a 35-year prison sentence.
But the court still heard from her oldest son about the things he saw 15 months ago when his mother was stabbed 30 times, beaten and choked inside their Richland home.
Just 8 at the time, the boy told police he was on his bed watching a Disney movie when Lawrence A. Miller started attacking his mom in another room.
The couple had broken up but had continued to share the Dos Palos Court apartment. Miller was mad that Vandeventer was dating another man and wouldn’t stop seeing him.
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“I heard a slamming and my mom screaming. She said, ‘Why you took my phone?’” the boy told Richland Detective Athena Clark two hours after the Sept. 11, 2013, murder. The first two minutes of the interview were played Tuesday at the Benton County Superior Court sentencing.
“(Miller) said if you don’t forget about him in a week I will kill you. And then he was holding her mouth and then like slammed her down the stairs and got a butter knife,” the boy said. “And then I saw blood on the stairs under my bedroom, and then I saw her dead. That’s it.”
Miller left the apartment and called his adoptive mother, who told him to turn himself in and looked up directions to the Richland Police Department. Miller called 911 using a telephone inside the station’s lobby and told the dispatcher he’d just attacked a woman and he didn’t know if she was still alive.
On Tuesday, Miller cried a few times as he expressed his “most sincere and deepest apologies” for the “terrible tragedy,” and wished he “could take back this truly selfish act of violence.” He said that it’s because of his “ill-conceived and misguided actions” that Vandeventer’s three sons and family are left to grieve.
“No amount of sorrow can bring a person back to life,” Miller said.
Miller pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Oct. 16, which also was his 36th birthday.
Judge Vic VanderSchoor said the two aggravating factors in the case — aggravated domestic violence and that the crime has affected the children’s future — justified a sentence well above the standard range.
Miller’s attorneys, Alexandria Sheridan and Scott Johnson requested a prison term within that range of 10 years and three months to 18 years and four months.
Prosecutor Andy Miller argued for 40 years because of the “very unique and very sad facts of this case.” He noted how he has been to many crime scenes and autopsies to know that all homicides are horrible in their own way, but added that this one will haunt him long after he retires.
“I will say that the murder of Rebeca is different than any other case I’ve seen (with) the brutal, almost torture-like nature of the injuries,” Andy Miller said. He showed VanderSchoor three pictures of Vandeventer’s wounds made with a 4- to 6-inch knife to highlight how some were just gratuitous violence and inflicted as a result of rage.
Vandeventer, 32, may have died when the kitchen knife went through her heart once, a forensic pathologist has testified. She also was found with a piece of clothing stuffed in her mouth, which blocked her airway and caused her to choke.
The prosecutor said the most important aspect of the case is the effect on Vandeventer’s boys, who Lawrence Miller referred to as his own sons during his statement.
The oldest brother reportedly gathered the 2- and 4-year-old siblings in his bedroom and they prayed for their mother while she was being attacked by Miller. When the screaming stopped, they went downstairs to get help but could not open the front door because their mother’s body was blocking it. The kids left through a back sliding door and ran to a neighbor, who took care of them until police arrived.
The children now are being raised by their maternal grandparents, Silvamara and Guilherme Baer.
Kate Baer told the court Tuesday that her sister-in-law suffered so much that night, and now her loved ones are left to suffer with intolerable grief.
“Beca is gone and this family will never be the same. Not a day goes by (we don’t) think about that night and how terrified she must have been for those children,” Baer said. “We miss her every day and we don’t understand.”
Baer said all of the boys have nightmares, but the two older ones are stronger after going to counseling every week for a year. She shared a heartbreaking story from last Thanksgiving when the oldest “asked quietly if there will be blood” as the family prepared to carve the turkey. The youngest turned 4 on Tuesday.
Vandeventer’s aunt, Silvana Dice, choked back tears while talking about how the world got smaller the night her niece was killed. She spoke for her sister and Vandeventer’s mother, Silvamara Baer, whose only daughter would have celebrated her 34th birthday on Dec. 23.
Miller had no prior criminal history. However, his lawyers pointed out his emotionally and physically abusive childhood and said when a child isn’t protected from the world by their parents, they have a tendency toward violence and criminal activity as an adult.
“He reacted without thinking because that is what he was taught as a child,” Sheridan said. She said her client has wanted to take responsibility from the beginning and pleaded guilty before trial because he “wanted more than anything to protect those boys.”
Andy Miller argued that the defendant talks about the violence he allegedly had as a young kid, yet he inflicted the same or even greater trauma on Vandeventer’s three boys.
“The fact is a lot of people have difficult childhoods and they don’t end up committing the horrific, horrific crimes that Lawrence Miller committed in this case,” he said.