SOUTH BEND - It was an emotional day Friday in Pacific County Superior Court when Erin Rieman was sentenced for up to 11 years in prison for the murder of John Curtis Adkins.
Rieman pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree manslaughter this month. The charge carries an aggravating factor, according to Pacific Count Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Bustamante, because "he used his position of trust to facilitate the commission of the crime."
Rieman was accused of the murder of Adkins, 54, who had traveled with Rieman and deckhand Walter Bremmer from Garibaldi, Ore., to the Port of Ilwaco aboard the FV Tiger, and was reported missing on July 5 last year by his brother, Randall Adkins.
In November, Rieman had pleaded not-guilty to charges of second-degree murder and second-degree theft. In the pleading process, the theft charge was dismissed.
Family speaks out
Members of Adkins' family, often in tears, were in the courtroom Friday and had brought photographs of their brother and uncle, "Because he can't speak for himself," Randall Adkins said.
"We can't make it better," another brother, George Adkins, said. "These photographs are an introduction to John. He was a smart fellow, educated, successful, friendly, generous, caring and trusting. He loved the great outdoors and anything involving water." He had worked for Hewlett-Packard for about 20 years and, after being laid off, decided to take up a new career on the water he so loved, his brother said.
He said his brother called their mother "every day for many years. She was 96 and healthy for her age and she knew John had disappeared. She died 32 days later of a stroke and suffered losing her son, one of the large tragedies of this murder."
When John Adkins got involved in fishing, he went into partnership with Rieman, making him a full partner in the fishing vessel Tiger. "Erin was the fish expert," George Adkins said, adding that his brother had enrolled in the Clatsop Community College maritime program to learn more about fishing. He said he had talked to John on the boat and "he was in seventh heaven, off on a new career. He loved seeing the birds and whales. He was doing what he truly loved. When we heard that John had just wandered off I was immediately suspicious of Erin. It was just unthinkable, there was no explanation. We thought we would never know what happened. He wasn't strong physically and was no threat to Erin."
Family members were united in their opinion that the charge against Rieman should have been second-degree murder. After the charge was changed to manslaughter in a plea bargain, "It was a slap in the face to everyone who knew John," George Adkins said. "We would have accepted a 15-year sentence, 11 years is trivial, it's absurd. Bremmer got immunity for his testimony and now parties every day in Hawaii. Where is the justice we should expect? Rieman continues to deny any knowledge of what happened. He's a liar and a murderer. This isn't reasonable punishment."
Randall Adkins said John's death was a "terrible loss. A manslaughter charge is a terrible insult. John was larger than life." He commended the law enforcement officers involved in the investigation, "especially Oregon State Police and the Long Beach Police Department."
Adkins's niece, Megan Adkins, 26, said she wasn't comfortable with the sentence. "I have no sense of justice. He (Rieman) has no remorse." She urged Judge Michael Sullivan to seek the highest sentence possible.
Family members all said they were concerned that, once Rieman serves his sentence, "he will go out and do it again."
Judge gives the max he can
Sullivan said the sentence is the maximum under Washington law. "I've been a prosecutor and a district court judge. When I was first a prosecutor, a judge had the authority to impose whatever sentence he wanted, but the supreme court said he can only do 132 months on the charge. I'm not passing the buck, just trying to educate. He doesn't deserve any mercy. It's the maximum sentence I can impose under the law.
"From the bench I can say a lot," Sullivan said, "and I wish legislators who make the sentencing guidelines as law would sit in a courtroom and hear the heartache and agony that goes on every day. Maybe they would make the violent crime guidelines less permissive. He deserves way more time than 11 years to do justice, but the laws are clear. I only see and hear what happens in the court and I appreciate you bringing photographs and background on John. I've had many letters from friends and family. I wish I could give you some kind of comfort. You have touched my heart. It's such a waste of a wonderful life. I hope you can work through this and move on."
Sullivan also imposed a lifetime no-contact order on Rieman with friends and family of Adkins and mandatory financial restitution to the family. Rieman also will serve 36 months in community custody after he serves his sentence. A restitution hearing will be Aug. 20 at 1:30 p.m.
Rieman, weeping, read a letter he had written to the Adkins family - "I'm truly sorry for your loss and share your grief. John was my friend. I didn't take his life but neither did I protect it. I accept the punishment handed to me today."
"There has been much grief and many tears shed," Thomas Keehan, Rieman's attorney, said. "John Adkins was a great man, there's no question."
After the sentencing, Megan Adkins said Judge Sullivan was "terrific." And Terrie Noble, an advocate for co-victims of homicide with the Violent Crime Victim Services in Tacoma agreed. "Sullivan is great," she said. "He really cares. You don't always see that."
John Adkins's body has not been found. The family held a memorial service for him on Dec. 3, his birthday, and, after the sentencing Friday, laid flowers in the water at the Port of Ilwaco in his memory.