Crime and Punishment: Highest number of domestic violence murders, prosecutor says
They don’t always make the headlines, but every Friday in King County court, those convicted of crimes hear their sentence and KIRO Newsradio brings you the story.
Last week’s sentences included a convicted killer, a bank robber, and a man convicted of multiple pharmacy robberies.
Case 1: Joseph Gongora
Joseph Gongora was convicted for the murder of his girlfriend in 2020. He was sentenced to roughly 18 years behind bars in what McNerthney says is a particularly tragic case.
“In September 2020, he was living with his girlfriend Crystal Rohre,” McNerthney said. “They had moved here from Texas. He was in his 30s, working a retail job. Things seemed fine initially. They had been dating off and on since 2013.”
McNerthney says Gongora’s behavior began to change at some point. “As his defense attorney told the court, things went downhill when Gongora started having paranoid delusions, believing people were tormenting him and tapping him with electronic devices.”
Gongora was later diagnosed with Unspecified Schizophrenia.
Prosecutors said when Gongora returned to Seattle, he continued to experience delusions. During one of those delusions, he grabbed a gun the couple kept in the apartment and shot Rohre twice, killing her.
The murder of Rohre marked an uptick in domestic violence murders in King County. McNerthney says the prosecutor’s office has evaluated the numbers over the past 25 years. “Domestic violence murders are tracked by David Martin, arguably the best DV prosecutor in the state. He got data from the medical examiner’s office going back to 1997 and, for the first time in King County history, reviewed deaths to show the true number of DV cases – not only traditional DV homicides, but also tracked intimate partner violence, suicides, DV-associated deaths, and officer-involved shootings in domestic violence incidents,” McNerthney recalled. “What that shows is that King County had relatively low numbers in 2018 and again in 2019,” he said.
But once COVID struck, the numbers spiked.
“Crystal Rohre’s death was one of the cases that led to the highest number of domestic violence murders – 30 of them – in a single year in King County,” McNerthney said. “Certainly, the pandemic lockdown had an incidence on that overall number.”
Gongora had no criminal history until his mental health deteriorated – this murder was his first known crime. Because of that, the statewide range set by lawmakers — even with being guilty as charged – is 123-220 months (which is roughly 10-18 years).
At his sentencing for Rohre’s murder on Friday, the judge decided to send Gongora to prison for close to the maximum time allowable. McNerthney says the judge sentenced Gongora to 216 months behind bars, which is exactly 18 years.
Case 2: Mohamud Ahmed
“People hear about these cases on the news every so often, but it’s rare to hear what happens after,” McNerthney explained. “King County prosecutors get convictions just like in this case,” he added, referring to Mohamud Ahmed who was convicted of multiple armed pharmacy robberies.
“He was looking for what we typically see stolen in pharmacy robberies – pain pills,” McNerthney said.
Ahmed was armed with a handgun he was not allowed to have when he robbed the pharmacies in February of 2021.
“This was traumatizing to people who worked in the pharmacy. As you can imagine, armed robberies can turn deadly very quickly. This one didn’t, but the trauma for some of those employees is still ongoing,” he added.
Seattle Police and the King County Sheriff’s Department investigated and helped secure the guilty convictions against Ahmed for two first-degree robbery charges and one charge for unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree.
“He was sentenced to 77 total months – about six-and-half years – which is in line with statewide sentencing guidelines set by state lawmakers,” McNerthney said.
The judge also ordered him to get an evaluation for substance abuse and alcohol abuse – and there’s a court order to follow all recommendations that come from that evaluation.
A co-defendant pleaded guilty earlier this year and is now also enrolled in treatment, admitting he has a significant drug addiction.
Case 3: Alek Bridges
The next case will likely help deter anyone who has ever considered robbing a bank.
“People have this idea that if you rob a bank, you’ll get away with a huge haul like the bandits of 100 years ago. Maybe that’s also because of the Hollywood Bandit – longtime Northwest residents will remember him and the bank robbery spree he went on in the 1990s – because he robbed banks of millions,” McNerthney said.
“The reality is banks have changed to prepare for the threat, and while they rarely say how much money was taken, you can find that out by looking at sentencing documents. The fact is, you rarely get anything more than a felony when you rob a bank,” he added.
And these days, it’s hardly worth the risk, as evidenced in the case of Alek Bridges, who was convicted of robbing a Kirkland bank.
“When Bridges robbed the Kirkland bank, he left with $985,” McNerthney said.
“He also left with a GPS tracker and discarded his gloves that helped investigators track his DNA through the law enforcement database CODIS. Bridges made previous poor decisions – he was convicted of assault and unlawful gun possession and trying to elude police, so his DNA was already in the database that tracks known felons,” McNerthney explained.
From his previous convictions, he had an offender score of 3 putting his sentencing range set by state lawmakers between 13-17 months, with the judge sentencing him to 13 months.