The state supreme court today vacated the aggravated portion of a murder conviction against a Bainbridge Island preacher who strangled his wife to death in 1997.
Dawn Hacheney’s body was found badly burned on Dec. 26, 1997 in an East Bremerton home, and investigators first concluded she’d died in an accidental fire. Four years later, however, a woman came forward alleging Dawn’s husband, Nicholas Hacheney (pictured), was having an affair and he had drugged Dawn and strangled her with a plastic bag before setting their home on fire.
Nicholas Hacheney was convicted of first-degree aggravated murder after a seven-week trial in Kitsap County Superior Court on Dec. 27, 2002. Jurors had decided on the aggravated conviction — which mandates a life sentence in Washington without the possibility of parole — because of the commission of the second felony of arson, according to the supreme court decision.
But six justices voted to overturn that conviction, stating that since the death was not in part caused by the felony of arson, the jury shouldn’t have been allowed to give him an aggravating life sentence because “Dawn was dead before the fire was set.”
“This court has held that in order for a death to have occurred in the course of a felony, there must be a causal connection such that the death was a probable consequence of that felony,” Judge Bobbe J. Bridge wrote in the majority opinion.
The case will be sent back to Kitsap County Superior Court in the coming months, where Hacheney will be re-sentenced for first-degree murder, which carries a standard range of 20 to 26 years.
Bridge was joined by Justices Tom Chambers, Mary E. Fairhurst, Susan J. Owens, Richard B. Sanders and Chief Justice Gerry L. Alexander. Barbara A. Madsen dissented while James M. Johnson had a mixed decision. Justice Charles W. Johnson appears absent from a decision in court documents.
UPDATE: It’s a small one, but I thought I’d point it out for those following this case. Bridge, who wrote the majority opinion, announced her retirement from the court a day after the opinion was released, according to the Washington Courts web site. She is to become the founding president of the Center for Children and Youth Justice. She’d been a supreme court justice since 1999.