A man who maintains he had nothing to do with a 36-year-old woman's brutal killing four years ago was convicted yesterday of manslaughter as part of an unusual plea deal that left just about everyone in the courtroom unsatisfied.
Turning to face the victim's angry, tearful family in D.C. Superior Court, William B. Hall said that he did not take the life of Kari Jacobsen, an on-again, off-again girlfriend. "I wish I could give them closure," Hall, 50, said, "but I did not kill Kari."
He acknowledged that the evidence -- some of it straight from his own mouth -- could have led others to believe that he was Jacobsen's killer. In April, he entered what is known as an Alford plea. Under such pleas, defendants do not explicitly admit to crimes but agree that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them. Alford pleas are recorded as guilty pleas and have the same legal effect.
Judge Robert I. Richter could either accept or reject the plea agreement that Hall struck with prosecutors -- including the sentence that he would receive.
For Hall, the agreed-upon sentence was 11 years, far less than he would have served had he been convicted of the indicted charge, first-degree murder.
Jacobsen, who grew up in Bethesda and lived in the 1800 block of 13th Street NW, was found dead in her bathtub in early July 2001. She had been choked, and her throat had been slashed. Prosecutors said Hall and Jacobsen had a "volatile" relationship. They argued often and fought many times, witnesses told investigators.
Hall was arrested in April 2003 and indicted later that year on a charge of first-degree murder.
But the government's case rested heavily on circumstantial evidence, and a trial appeared to be a risky proposition for prosecutors. With such a serious charge and the outcome so uncertain, the defense evidently wasn't willing to take a chance, either.
The two sides began working toward a plea agreement, but as it took shape, around a charge of voluntary manslaughter while armed, the Jacobsen family objected.
Although it is not unusual for families to be disappointed with the terms of a plea, the Jacobsen family was particularly outspoken.
Coming before the judge yesterday, one relative after another urged that the plea be rejected. A photograph of Jacobsen was mounted on an easel in the well of the courtroom. Kari, the family told Richter, was a wonderful person, and her killing was a brutal act that demanded far more than the 11-year proposed sentence.
"We know the plea is not right," said Terri Jacobsen, one of the victim's sisters. "It's not just. It's not right."
The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. DiBiase, said the government was not satisfied with the outcome, either. But, he said, "we have to be guided by the evidence, by the facts."
Richter said that he agreed with many of the sentiments of the Jacobsen family but that he believed the plea, unsatisfactory as it was to him, was acceptable. Richter said he would not have accepted the plea if he had serious questions about Hall's guilt.