Annapolis man sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder of wife in January

Mental illness to blame for killing, lawyer says

November 11, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County Circuit judge sentenced a National Institutes of Health hazardous materials manager to 10 years in prison Friday for killing his wife in the couple's Annapolis home.

The sentence was the maximum that Steven John Washko, 45, could receive under his plea agreement, reached in September. The sentence for the reduced charge of manslaughter in the death in January of his wife, Linda, 43, was what prosecutors and the victim's family sought. It included a recommendation for evaluation for treatment at Patuxent Institution.

Defense lawyers and Washko's friends depicted the defendant as a mild man who slid into mental illness in the face of overwhelming stress.

He worked in Bethesda and spent increasing amounts of time as a caregiver for cancer-stricken parents in Forestville, his friends and lawyer said at sentencing Friday. His father died, his wife miscarried and became romantically involved with another man, though he wanted to repair his faltering marriage.

By the time he attacked his wife with a ball-peen hammer, he was paranoid, anxiety-ridden and depressed, his blood pressure was high, he was taking medication and receiving counseling, his lawyer and friends said.

After killing his wife, Washko drove her car into the path of a truck near Bowie, police said. He survived, got out of the car and leapt in front of a dump truck, which avoided him. He was wearing only underwear and shoes, and he said he does not recall what happened.

"This is not the product of a violent person. This is the product of a mentally ill person," said defense lawyer James N. Papirmeister. He said he will seek a sentence modification.

In the courtroom, Washko apologized to his wife's family, saying that he missed them and that he had lost every person and possession important to him.

"I loved Linda and you with all my heart. And I always will," he told them.

The victim's family said they did not put "Washko" on Linda Susan Tansill's gravestone. They described family gatherings that used to be moments of celebration but have turned painfully sad.

Robert Tansill, the victim's father, recalled speaking to the defendant at the couple's wedding. "I whispered to him that he'd better take good care of her, or he'd hear from me," he said. "He didn't heed my words. Look what he's done."

The victim's parents have filed two lawsuits against Washko. A wrongful death claim seeks $6 million. The other seeks to bar Washko from receiving insurance benefits and other assets belonging to his wife under a state law aimed at preventing a criminal from profiting from wrongdoing.

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