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Manslaughter charge for South Kitsap man who killed fleeing intruder
Wallace Glen Finlay, the 72-year-old South Kitsap resident accused of shooting and killing an intruder to his apartment last Saturday, was in court on Monday to face second-degree manslaughter charges.
The manslaughter charge was filed because the 22-year-old victim, Donald G. Axthelm, was fleeing the scene when the shots were fired.
Finlay sat with Public Defender Bill Houser at his preliminary hearing, via video, looking confused and putting his hand on his chest in what appeared to be an attempt to catch his breath.
District Court Judge Marilyn G. Paja read the charge and asked Finlay if he understood, but when he didn’t respond, Houser replied, “He’s a little hard of hearing.”
Paja then requested a recess in order to locate an hearing-assistance device.
After a short time, the hearing continued with Houser stating reasons why the defendant should be released.
“He has no criminal history,” the attorney said. “He turned his guns over to detectives immediately and as to the question of his being a danger to the community, it is limited. I ask that he be released to his sister and stay with her until this matter is resolved.”
Paja ruled in favor of the defendant and released Finlay to his sister, Mary Heney, on $10,000 bail.
Axthelm’s family, friends and roommates were visibly upset at the release of the defendant, some of them storming out of the courtroom.
The victim’s roommate, Nicholas Phillips, made a statement to the judge regarding whether it would be safe to release Finlay.
“I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “(Finlay) was always trying to start stuff.”
On May 8, at approximately 3:30 a.m., deputies responded to a report of a burglary and shots fired at the South Park Greens apartment homes.
When they arrived they contacted Finlay, who indicated he woke because of some noise in his apartment. When he got up to check, he found a young, white male inside his home.
According to the probable cause statement, “Finlay told deputies that he grabbed the shoulders of the victim and asked him what he was doing in his apartment and what did he want. As he was pushing the victim toward the door, the victim grabbed his shoulders.
“Finlay then grabbed a .38-caliber handgun from his shoulder holster,” the report said, “and pointed it at Axthelm, at which point Axthelm said, “Please don’t shoot me. I have a daughter.”
Axthelm then opened the door and fled on foot.
Finlay informed deputies that when the intruder was about 25 to 30 feet away and still running, he fired three to four shots in his direction.
“Finlay indicated that he was just trying to stop the man and that he was going to drag him back to the apartment and tie him up with rope and call 911,” the report said. “Finlay stated that he was unaware he had shot the man.”
Two hours later, the Axthelm’s body was found approximately 50 feet away around the corner of the apartment building.
According to the coroner’s report, Axthelm died of a single gunshot wound to his chest area, which resulted in massive internal injuries.
Investigators are unsure whether Axthelm wandered by mistake into the wrong apartment or it was an attempted burglary.
“When we get the autopsy report back, maybe that will give us some information,” said Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Scott Wilson. “We’ll check the toxicology report for, among other things, alcohol content. Maybe he was intoxicated and just entered the wrong apartment. We will just have to wait for the reports.”
After several hours of investigation, detectives had established probable cause to place Finlay under arrest.
“It was entirely due to the fact that the intruder was running away at the time,” Wilson said. “Because he was running away, he presented no immediate threat to the shooter.
“If he’d gone back to get his own gun and kicked the door in, that would be different,” Wilson said. “But that didn’t happen. He was presenting less and less of a threat with each step he took in the opposite direction.”
A memorial of flowers, pictures and notes adorn the wall where Axthelm was found from friends and loved ones.
Finlay’s next court appearance will be May 25 at 8:30 a.m.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to 21 to 27 months in prison.