A man must serve 23 years in prison for killing a Bellingham woman, who was found dead by her preteen son, a Whatcom County judge ruled Tuesday, Sept. 20.
Raymond Hamilton Gilbert III, 33, shot Debra Christie in the head with a .32-caliber bullet around 1:20 a.m. Aug. 20, 2015, on her deck at an apartment on Otis Street.
It was merely moments earlier on that deck that Christie introduced her 11-year-old son to a man she called Raymond, who was later identified as Gilbert. The boy went inside the apartment, heard a “pop,” and returned to find his mother dead with a single gunshot wound by her left eye. Christie was 49.
A neighbor in the Viking Village apartment complex, 1015 Otis St., looked outside and saw Gilbert. He asked Gilbert if he had heard a gunshot.
“I just shot his grandma,” he replied. Gilbert said he had to go, and ran from the scene.
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, Gilbert pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree while armed with a deadly weapon. Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis sentenced him to the most time possible under state sentencing guidelines, 23 years and four months in prison.
Over the hours following the killing, police pieced together a motive. Gilbert’s close friend, Barry Williamson, 36, had a grudge with Christie. Once she threatened to call the cops about loud music upstairs when Williamson barged into her apartment, asked if she knew who she was messing with, and made threats to kill her, according to charging papers.
Police arrested Williamson on suspicion of harassment, and days before the murder he was arrested again, for violating a restraining order Christie had against him.
An hour after Gilbert shot Christie, he sent a text to Williamson: “I love you you’ll never have to worry about the bitch again.”
Gilbert climbed onto the roof of McKay’s Taphouse while police searched for him, said Prosecutor Dave McEachran. He called his father and told him he had shot a woman named Debbie. His father informed police.
That same day, at 4:49 a.m., Gilbert turned himself in at the Whatcom County Jail. He asked for an attorney and invoked his right to remain silent.
Gilbert had no criminal record.
In letters to the court, his family said that for years Gilbert had been a hardworking fisherman in Florida. But when he drank a different person came out, and over the course of a decade drugs and drinking “took over” Gilbert’s life. He drank beer like it was “his water,” a 32-pack a day, wrote Sat Siri Khalsa, the mother of his child.
He was beaten at a bar in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2005 by a group of men swinging pool balls inside of socks. He barely survived, and he spent days in a coma in intensive care.
“Ever since that time he has seemed angrier and not in control as well as he should be,” Gilbert’s parents wrote in a letter to the court. “Whether this is the reason this horrific event took place or not we cannot tell you but this is true, we are not proud of him at this moment but we will always love our son.”
Gilbert read an apology letter during his sentencing hearing. He has not forgiven himself, he said.
In Washington state, the standard prison term for murder in the second degree, when attached to what is called a deadly weapon enhancement, is 183 to 280 months. The plea deal suggested 233 months, but Montoya-Lewis handed down the maximum of 280.