Our family experiencing tragedy, too
October 21, 2010 · 1:22 PM
As is the case in all altercations, there are always two sides to a story, yet in the recent case of my cousin, Wallace Finlay, shooting Donald Axthelm, (“72-year-old gets 3 years in jail for killing intruder,” Oct. 14), we only seem to be hearing the dead man’s side.
My uncle, who was involved in a car/pedestrian accident at the age of 8, has spent 64 years of his life with a diminished mental capacity. He has never dated and has always lived alone, bothering no one.
During a psychological evaluation, his social skills and reasoning ability were estimated to be in the bottom 5 percent of the population.
I was present at the evaluation by the expert criminal psychologist when Walace was asked if he had any previous trouble with the law.
His answer was, “I’ve had two speeding tickets.”
Because of his diminished mental capacity, he has lost the ability to lie — or even distort the truth — even for his own well-being.
Wallace, even though he possessed a gun, never threatened anyone, brandished the weapon or even target-practiced.
The gun was short-barrelled and consequently inaccurate beyond 10 or 15 yards, which explains why only one of the four shots hit the victim and why the shot hit his body, not his legs.
If Don Axthelm was getting his life in order, as his family and friends contended at the hearing, what was he doing in someone else’s apartment at 3:30 in the morning? Was he considering his daughter’s welfare at the time?
Toxicology tests revealed that he was heavily impaired. Were there drugs other than alcohol as speculated?
It appears Mr. Axthelm’s life consisted of many bad choices. One of his last was to enter someone else’s apartment.
The logical, unasked question is: “Was the victim innocently looking around or was he there to steal something to support a drug habit?”
Another poor choice was to flee the apartment rather than wait for the police, the decision that led to his death.
Wallace is in jail today because his worst nightmare became a reality. A 72-year-old, mentally impaired man, weighing only 150 pounds, nearly deaf, asleep in his own apartment, frightened beyond comprehension is awakened in the middle of the night and expected to think lucidly about his behavior and the legality of his actions.
My uncle doesn’t have the physical capacity to apprehend a high school cheerleader, let alone a man 50 years younger and far stronger.
The obvious question here is, “Who started this?”
Recently in Kelso, a homeowner pursued a thief for several blocks through a residential area before shooting him in the back with an arrow. Yet no charges were brought against the shooter.
That deputy prosecutor apparently hadn’t heard that “you can’t shoot someone while they’re running away.”
Maybe he also didn’t have political aspirations.
Was the response of the Sheriff’s Office professional? Why did it take more than two hours to find Mr. Axthelm’s body when it was only a short distance from where the shots were fired?
Could a police dog have found him immediately?
I have also read varying accounts about whether Mr. Axthelm was shot in the heart. If so, how was he able to run off and not be found?
Was it police negligence that caused my uncle to be charged with second-degree homicide instead of assault?
On advice from his attorney, my uncle was instructed to write a letter to the judge expressing his sorrow and taking responsibility for the shooting.
The prosecutor couldn’t have asked for more.
This, in essence, gave the judge a free pass to administer the top end of the sentencing standard with a guilty conscience.
I was astonished to find at the pre-trial hearing that that many of Mr. Axthelm’s friends and family members were acquaintances of mine, and I believe most of them to be decent people.
The tragedy is that two people from different worlds met momentarily and it completely altered their lives.
Life isn’t fair, and there are no winners here.
I’m sorry Don Axthelm is dead. But I’m also sorry my uncle is in prison.
Don Zimmerman is a Gig Harbor resident.