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Originally published August 16, 2013 at 7:21 PM | Page modified August 16, 2013 at 7:53 PM

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10-year prison term for killer of driver who gave her a lift

Karen Latham was sentenced Friday to a little more than 10 years in prison for the April 2012 fatal stabbing of Zerabruk Habtemiriam, a Seattle man, 59, who had given her a ride to a fast-food restaurant on Aurora Avenue North. The 25-year-old was ordered to undergo a mental-health evaluation.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A 25-year-old New Jersey woman on Friday tearfully apologized to the family of a Seattle man she fatally stabbed in April 2012 after flagging him down on Aurora Avenue North and asking for a ride to a fast-food restaurant.

“I just want to say that I’m very sorry and I can’t bring him back and I’m sorry,” Karen Latham, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last month, told King County Superior Court Judge Dean Lum.

Turning to face Zerabruk Habtemiriam’s relatives, including his wife, brother and sister who were seated in the gallery, Latham said: “I’m sorry, y’all.”

Lum also addressed the family, telling them: “Obviously, it’s a very tragic situation ... There’s nothing I can say to ease your loss. Your loss is tremendous.”

King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Dernbach said Latham’s lack of criminal history, her mental-health issues and the fact she took responsibility for the crime led the state and defense to recommend a prison sentence of a little more than 10 years, the low end of the standard range for second-degree murder.

As part of Latham’s plea deal, prosecutors dropped a deadly-weapon enhancement that would have added two years to her sentence.

After her release from prison, Latham will be on community supervision for three years.

Lum, who agreed to the sentencing recommendation, also ordered Latham to undergo a mental-health evaluation.

“My wish for you ... is that you take advantage of treatment while you are incarcerated” to help “treat some of the issues you have,” Lum said.

Before Lum handed down his sentence, Zecharias Mesgaue, one of the victim’s relatives, expressed a similar hope for Latham.

“As a family, we hope she gets released from this disease. It’s a sickness,” Mesgaue said, saying his family lost “a good citizen, a good husband.”

Latham’s defense attorney, Mark Flora, said incarceration could be healthy for her.

According to court documents, she weighed 120 pounds when she was arrested at a motel on Aurora Avenue North near the crime scene, the parking lot of a Krispy Kreme doughnut store next to a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant.

“She looks healthy now,” said Flora, noting Latham has gained “a considerable amount of weight” while in jail.

“She was not in good shape” when she was arrested, Flora said.

Latham had a “terrible childhood” and was “living a life in the underworld where she was quite vulnerable,” he said. “She’s felt terrible about this, and I think she wants to get out of the life she found herself in.”

Court records show that Latham had two prior misdemeanor convictions for prostitution in New Jersey.

According to charging papers, it was a little after 4 p.m. on April 2, 2012, when a witness pulled into the Krispy Kreme parking lot on Aurora just north of North 125th Street, and heard Habtemiriam’s screaming: “Please don’t let her get away. She stabbed me!”

The witness followed the woman — later identified as Latham — who Habtemiriam, 59, identified as his attacker, the papers say. He called 911 and told police Latham had gone into a room at the Nites Inn Motel.

When officers arrived at a room rented by one of Latham’s friends, they found Latham covered in blood, the papers say. In an interview with homicide detectives, Latham was evasive and gave inconsistent stories before telling them she flagged Habtemiriam down near North 137th Street and he agreed to give her a ride to the Jack-in-the-Box; once there, she said she was hungry, asked for money and received $5 from the victim, the papers say.

When she demanded more cash, Habtemiriam refused and Latham plunged a switchblade knife into his chest.

At the time, Latham’s address was listed as the Downtown Emergency Service Center. The center, located across the street from the King County Courthouse, provides services to seriously mentally ill and addicted homeless people.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com


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