(WSB video of the entire 31-minute hearing, unedited, added @ 5:26 pm)
A dramatic sentencing hearing is concluding right now in the courtroom of King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller. He has sentenced 59-year-old Thomas Qualls, the Alki resident who pointed an assault rifle at police officers last September, to what prosecutors had asked after a plea bargain to an attempted-assault charge: 24.7 months. Two of the three police officers at whom Qualls pointed – if not fired, which was a point of dispute in the case – his rifle spoke to the judge first. Officer Andy Peloquin called the fact the case was plea-bargained to this potential sentence, the maximum possible in the “standard range” for attempted assault with a firearm enhancement, “a slap on the wrist.” (The other officer who spoke was Sgt. Steve Strand.)
We videotaped the entirety of the hearing, including what the officers and Qualls told the court – he and his lawyers blamed alcohol for much of what he did that night – and what the judge had to say. Qualls asked the judge if he could be allowed out of jail (where he’s been since the incident last September) in time for his 40th wedding anniversary, and the judge said no.
The reason for the plea bargain was explained by the prosecution as the fact that the investigation could not prove Qualls ever fired the assault rifle, as had been contended that night. There was no proof yielded by either two audio recordings from that night or a number of field investigations, including a re-creation at his Alki home a few weeks ago.
Qualls – who had no prior record – was shot in the abdomen by police and has been in jail since leaving the hospital less than a week after the confrontation, which started when one of his grown children – both of whom were in the courtroom – had called 911 to say he had threatened suicide after a disagreement with his wife, who also came to court for the sentencing. No family members addressed the judge, but the defense lawyer noted that family and friends had sent Judge Heller letters expressing support. (September 2010 photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)