A Kelso man will spend nearly 23 years in prison for strangling his stepfather in September and leaving the body in the house for several days, though the victim’s family told the judge nothing will heal their broken hearts.
Bruce Wayne Albee, 57, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Thursday agreeing to a plea deal that let him avoid additional charges or an exceptional sentence. He admitted to strangling Charles Marion Rees in mid-September. He gave conflicting explanations, saying the 81-year-old Rees pushed him to it, but also claiming it was a sort of mercy killing.
“I took a rope and strangled Mr. Rees ... Chuck,” Albee told Judge Marilyn Haan on Thursday. “He made me angry.”
Rees never asked Albee to kill him, Albee said, but he said he could tell that’s what Rees wanted. “We had prayed,” Albee said. “We had read the Bible.” He said he was afraid if he didn’t kill Rees, the elderly man in poor health would commit suicide and “go to hell.”
Several members of Rees’ family attended the sentencing.
“Sorry is not enough,” Albee told them, saying he’d stayed up all night trying to find the right words. “I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know what happened to me. I’m sorry.”
Rees’ daughter-in-law took no comfort in Albee’s apology.
“Today our hearts are broken, but imagining what you may endure in prison does help us a little,” Diana Rees told Albee during her statement. “There’s a special place in hell for people like you. And until you get there, I pray you have a living hell every day in prison. ... I truly believe the only remorse you have is for getting caught.”
The family’s grief was compounded, she said, because they heard about the death on a police scanner.
Albee was arrested in Pacific County on Sept. 18, after police were called about a suspicious person. When contacted, Albee confessed to strangling his stepfather with a rope in their shared Kelso home, saying they had fought over who should pay for beer. His defense lawyer also said Albee was angry about comments Rees allegedly made about Albee’s dead mother. Cowlitz County Prosecutor Sue Baur noted that Albee also sent several text messages to relatives in the days leading up to the murder, saying he was increasingly angry and frustrated with Rees. Albee moved in with Rees to help care for the man after Albee’s mother died.
Rees’ body, wrapped in blankets, garbage bags and duct tape, was found in his Holcomb Loop Road home by Cowlitz County Sheriff’s deputies. Albee told police he’d been planning on burying Rees but hadn’t decided quite how yet. Officials aren’t certain which day Rees was killed, but his body was left in the house for several days after the murder. Albee told police he opened windows due to the smell.
Because this is his first offense, Albee faced a standard sentencing range of 240 to 320 months. His lawyer, Joshua Baldwin, argued that Rees knows there’s no excuse for what he’s done but took responsibility by pleading guilty. Albee is in poor health and expects to die in prison no matter what the sentence, Baldwin said.
Haan agreed to follow prosecutors’ recommendation of 275 months, saying she knew nothing she did would bring Rees back to his family.
“There are no words to ever make it OK,” Haan told the family. “I hope at least there is some peace knowing he’s in prison and not walking the streets.”