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Originally published July 26, 2013 at 8:21 PM | Page modified July 26, 2013 at 9:11 PM

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Hatchet slaying of wife brings 25-year sentence

A 72-year-old Bellevue man who murdered his wife with a hatchet after what he children said were decades of abusing her was sentenced by a King County Superior Court judge on Friday to 25 years in prison.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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James Schumacher claimed he was truly sorry for killing his wife of 46 years.

But he insisted he was simply acting in “panicked self-defense” when he picked the lock of Jean Schumacher’s bedroom door in March 2012 and repeatedly struck her with a hatchet as she lay asleep in bed.

Schumacher assured King County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Prochnau he would not be a repeat offender and would volunteer his time to care for animals and tutor people, should he be granted his request for a lenient sentence and a chance to live out his final years at home.

Prochnau looked coolly at the 72-year-old Bellevue man in court Friday, said she found his self-defense story “preposterous,” and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. She called him a “selfish, selfish man” who had never done anything for anyone else in his life, and promised him he would never be free, or in control, again.

His children — both of whom testified at trial about their father’s rages and the decades of physical and emotional abuse he inflicted on his family — had begged the judge to issue the longest possible sentence at the hearing for Schumacher on Friday.

“He is a violent, vile piece of garbage,” said his daughter Susan Schumacher, who described her mother as an innately happy and beautiful woman who had, for inexplicable reasons, believed that there was good in her husband and that their relationship would improve.

The standard sentencing range for second-degree murder is 10 to 20 years, but prosecutors had asked for an exceptionally long sentence, based on Schumacher’s history of domestic violence against his wife and the brutality of the crime, they said.

His attorney had requested an exceptionally lenient sentence of three years, saying Schumacher was suffering from dementia, untreated diabetes and depression when he killed his wife of 46 years.

Schumacher’s attorney said the sentence will be appealed.

According to police and prosecutors, Jean Schumacher had just garnered the courage to ask for a divorce when she was killed, on March 21, 2012.

Schumacher picked the lock on her bedroom door and killed her before stuffing her body under the bed, withdrawing thousands of dollars from the bank, packing his car and taking his wife’s dog to a boarding kennel.

He had planned to flee before he realized he could not hope to get away, prosecutors said, and it was only then that he turned himself in to police.

At his sentencing Friday, Schumacher claimed that shortly before he killed his wife, she had threatened him with a hammer. He said fear and panic compelled him to find a nail to pick the lock to her room, retrieve a hatchet and kill her.

Schumacher, a Boeing retiree, had a history of violence against his wife.

Court documents show that Jean Schumacher called police in 2010 after her husband knocked her to the floor because she spilled his cereal.

Jean Schumacher sought a restraining order, which was granted. The following month, she asked that the order be modified, allowing her and her husband to talk on the phone and meet once a week to discuss finances and other household matters, according to the records. That request was also granted.

The protection order was terminated in July 2010 at Jean Schumacher’s request, court records show. Her finances were dwindling and she was overwhelmed trying to take care of the house by herself, she wrote.

“Mr. Schumacher and I are in our declining years with health issues,” she wrote, “and hopefully this very unfortunate separation has proven to be beneficial to our marriage as a learning experience and a dedication to respect each other and live out the rest of our lives in a contented and peaceable manner.”

At his sentencing Friday, Schumacher said he was remorseful over what happened to his wife, which he said was the “worst experience” he’d ever had. He claimed that he had been sick with the flu and in bed when Jean Schumacher entered his room and threatened him, prompting him to kill her a short time later.

Prochnau, the judge, told Schumacher that his wife would be remembered with love and joy and honor.

“If your children remember you at all,” she said, “it will not be that way.”

Christine Clarridge can be reached at cclarridge@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8983.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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