David Fielder is haunted by the thoughts of his sister’s final moments as she was choked to death by a friend.
Was Alisa J. Brewer thinking about the dream trip to Italy she never got to take? About seeing her brother for Christmas? About the expressions of love and goodbyes she didn’t get to share?
Research shows it can take from 10 seconds to five minutes for a person to lose consciousness, Fielder told a packed courtroom Friday morning.
Count to yourself just how many thoughts can run through your head in that time, he said. It’s longer than you think.
William “Will” C. Lee, 25, admitted killing Brewer on Dec. 9 after meeting up with her at a West Richland bar. The two were former co-workers and had an intimate relationship over several years.
As the Pasco woman’s lifeless body was on the floor, Lee laughed and occasionally cried while talking to an emergency dispatcher for 44 minutes about the “corpse” in his apartment.
He told the dispatcher he wanted to kill himself to avoid spending “life in a box.”
On Friday, Lee was ordered to spend 20 years in a state prison cell.
“By his own words on the 911 call, he said he strangled (Brewer). That his fingerprints were all over her,” Fielder said in the three-hour hearing. A recording of the emergency call was played during the hearing.
“I assume he was looking into her eyes as he was killing her,” he said.
“What I hope for is that whenever Mr. Lee shuts his eyes, he sees the look on my sister’s face, in her eyes. The fear, the terror, the pain.”
Brewer, 53, worked for Barnhart Crane & Rigging, which has a branch office in Richland. She had been at an office holiday party earlier in the night before the celebration moved to a bar.
Lee joined up with his former colleagues, and there were “good times, laughs and dancing,” said Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Howell.
But less than an hour after leaving the bar, Lee called 911 to report that he had “made a bad decision” and Brewer was dead.
Once officers got into Lee’s apartment, they found Brewer’s naked body on the floor with a leather belt tightened around her neck. An autopsy confirmed she died from strangulation, in addition to having injuries to her head, face and neck.
Lee pleaded guilty in September to second-degree murder with the aggravating circumstance of excessive injury.
He had no criminal history, and faced 10 years and three months to 18 years and four months for the murder.
However, the excessive injury allegation allowed prosecutors to ask for more time.
Prosecutor Andy Miller and Howell recommended 22 years.
‘Not quick like gunfire’
They said while Lee may have expressed remorse and sorrow during his lengthy 911 call, his regrets were about himself, his own family, his neighbors, police and the dispatcher on the other end of the line. None of it was for Brewer or her loved ones.
“No amount of time can bring back Alisa Brewer. The defendant stole her from her family, her friends, from our community,” said Howell. “Strangulation is a more severe form (of murder). It takes time, takes effort. It’s not quick like gunfire. ... She died at his hands, but she also suffered at his hands.”
Brewer’s stepfather, lifelong friends, sister and brother all described her as a vibrant, accomplished, kind, fiercely loyal and loving woman whose death has left a void in their lives. Brewer enjoyed community activities, and book and wine-tasting clubs, and was an explorer and traveler.
Her loved ones said that no matter what happened that night 10 months ago, she did not deserve Lee’s anger, hate or rage that led up to him selfishly taking her life.
Most of the two dozen relatives and friends held a large framed picture of Brewer in their laps to make sure she too was present in that courtroom for Lee and Superior Court Judge Jackie Shea Brown to see.
Fielder said he was in a hotel room 3,000 miles away when he got a voicemail from police that his “sister had gotten into trouble.”
He called back, praying that Brewer was only in jail and he could fix it, but in his heart he knew it was more.
Then he had to hear that she had been “severely beaten and strangled by someone she had trusted and had an ongoing consensual, intimate relationship with.”
The siblings’ mother had died 18 months earlier.
Lee robbed Brewer of a future, and family and friends of her love and companionship, said Fielder. He talked about making sure that his sister’s voice was heard after her brutal death, bringing justice for her and the struggle over whether he should accept a plea bargain to avoid a long trial.
“I will make no claims that my sister was a saint. She had flaws like everyone else,” said Fielder. “Her life was just as valuable as anyone else, as much as the other 17,000 murder victims that happen every year in the U.S.”
The recommended 22-year term wasn’t long enough, said Fielder, but he’d made peace with the fact that no amount of time was enough.
“He will be younger than Alisa was when he murdered her. He will be younger than I am now, and he will be free,” he said. “(Lee) could be your neighbor, your co-worker. He could be a friend of your sister or daughter. This is not hyperbole or a scare tactic, it is just a fact.”
Defense attorneys Caleb DiPeso and Megan Whitmire asked for 15 years in prison for Lee.
They pointed out Lee’s clean record before the murder and the fact he admitted his guilt before trial.
“Will can’t undo the murder. He certainly wishes he could,” said DiPeso. “He knows it was an immoral choice on his part and he knows he made a grave mistake. But he called 911 and pleaded guilty.”
Lee’s family said they’ve learned from this tragedy that he is an alcoholic and needs treatment. They said he “has demonstrated contrition for his actions,” and vowed that once he’s served his time he will return to family in Montana a changed man.
Lee — who was allowed to wear a suit for sentencing instead of the usual jail uniform — said he did not want to deny or downplay his responsibility.
“This starts with me and ends with me. I’ve hurt some people that I love very much,” he said. “I desperately, desperately wish every day that this night could have been different. I really don’t know what happened.”
Lee turned to Brewer’s family on the other side of the courtroom and apologized for leaving a hole in their lives, saying she was a wonderful woman and a friend who guided him through a lot of problems in his life.
He added that if the circumstances had been different and Brewer was still alive, he’s sure she would have counseled him as he faced the criminal charge.
No going back
Judge Shea Brown said there is no going back, only forward.
“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. We will always love them deeply from a part of us,” she said.
The judge said while it was a monstrous act committed by Lee, he is not a monster and is not irredeemably evil.
“You can honor this tragedy by becoming the person you want to be,” said Shea Brown. “At the end of the day, you still have life.”
After the hearing, Lee had to give his fingerprints and sign sentencing documents before going back to jail. As he started to walk out of the courtroom, Cyrus Lee stood up in the gallery and shouted, “Will, I love you. I am proud to call you my son.”
The father encouraged the more than a dozen supporters on his side to speak up, saying this was their chance to say something.
Will Lee’s mother, sister, grandmother and others then assured Lee they will watch out for each other during his absence, and for him to “stay strong” in prison.