SANDPOINT — A Bonner County man was ordered on Tuesday to serve up to 25 years in prison for shooting Robert Hegseth Wohali to death earlier this year.
Michael Ryan McDermott will have to serve 12 years of the sentence before he can be considered for release on to parole, according to the terms of the sentences imposed by 1st District Judge Barbara Buchanan.
Wohali, 26, was shot to death outside of a recreational vehicle parked on the grounds of Evergreen Towing in the late evening or early morning hours in mid-March of last year. McDermott, 48, testified at his trial in October that he shot Wohali in self-defense after being threatened with a homemade ax wielded by Wohali.
McDermott and Wohali, according to trial testimony, were both involved in on-again/off-again relationships with Alicia Flynn, who resided in the RV.
The state argued Wohali was slain in a jealous rage when McDermott discovered Flynn had rekindled a relationship with Wohali. The defense maintained Wohali came after McDermott during the confrontation.
McDermott disposed of Wohali’s body on Gold Hill and initially denied involvement in the man’s disappearance and death. McDermott later told Sandpoint Police and Bonner County sheriff’s investigators he shot Wohali in self-defense after Flynn began cooperating with detectives.
Jurors, however, did not buy the self-defense argument and convicted him of second-degree murder.
Friends and family of McDermott and Wohali, both of whom come from well-known and tight-knit Bonner County clans, filled the courtroom gallery to capacity during the sentencing hearing.
Members of the McDermott family each prefaced their remarks with condolences to the Wohali family for their loss, but said McDermott was wrongly convicted and victimized by biased newspaper coverage of the case.
They also emphasized that McDermott was not violent or prone to jealousy.
“I’ve not seen it in 24 years,” said Jason Weersing, McDermott’s longtime friend and former coworker, said of angry or violent outbursts.
McDermott’s family members, however, seemed to agree that he blew his life and a marriage apart with a hand grenade made of methamphetamine.
“Meth and drugs has led my son down a path that was unforgivable,” said McDermott’s father, Tony.
Despite his drug use, McDermott’s family said he was not violent nor a career criminal guilty of second-degree murder.
“It was not a fair trial,” the elder McDermott said, adding that the legal defense in his son’s case was lacking.
A more rounded portrait of Wohali also emerged during the hearing. Portrayed as something as a ruffian at trial partly due to his imposing physical stature, family members said Wohali donned a tough exterior in an attempt to short-circuit troublesome situations after being attacked by bullies with a baseball bat. Beneath the facade was a deeply forgiving and caring soul, family members said.
Rebecca Hegseth, who essentially turned over parental rights to her son after becoming a teen mother and recognizing the care the Wohalis could give, grieved the loss of her son.
“You took something from me I won’t ever get back,’ Rebecca Hegseth said.
Wohali’s adoptive mother, May, said Robert was a ray of sunshine as she struggled with the death of her husband in a motorcycle crash.
“He was really a joy to be around,” said Mary Wohali, recalling watching movies together and going out for dinners.
Moses Wohali was more pointed in his remarks, contending that McDermott was looking for trouble.
“You came to a house with a loaded gun while he was sleeping,” Moses Wohali said,
Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall argued Wohali was not the aggressor based on evidence and that Wohali hung back during the confrontation to dispel notions that Flynn was responsible for the killing.
Marshall advocated for a 15-years to life sentence, while Chief Public Defender Susie Jensen recommended a five- to 10-year sentence, largely due to McDermott’s lack of a prior felony recored.
Buchanan imposed a 25-year term with a minimum of 10 years and added two years to the sentence for stealing a wakeboard from Goodwill as an unrelated crime.
“I wake up every morning to a nightmare,” McDermott said.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.