A Bellingham man must serve 1 ¾ years in prison for an assault at a Samish Way motel that left his girlfriend paralyzed from the neck down, a Whatcom County judge ruled Thursday.
Terry Lynn Haskett, 58, beat his girlfriend Stephanie Marie Sparks in early April in their room at the Villa Inn. She later told police Haskett got mad at her when they didn’t have drugs. He shoved her, got on top of her, punched her face, and used his fist to push down her head, causing an injury to her neck, she reported. Haskett held a kitchen knife to her face and neck, too, and threatened to stab her.
Sparks, 37, did not call for help until the next day, when a sensation of numbness spread from her hands to her legs. Her neurosurgeon told police Sparks had spinal stenosis, a degenerative condition from birth. The hyper-extension of her neck in the assault, coupled with the stenosis, led to paralysis, the surgeon said.
Months ago prosecutors said the assault left Sparks quadriplegic. She arrived in court Thursday afternoon in a wheelchair, pushed by her sister who has become a caretaker. Sparks told the judge she’s going through physical therapy. She can move her arms, and has some feeling in her hands and limbs. But she’s unsure how far her recovery will go.
“I’m in a lot of pain all the time,” Sparks said, battling tears. “Unbearable pain, sometimes. I can barely move. I’m numb.”
Yet Sparks said she’s lucky to be alive. She told the judge Haskett beat her in the past with a metal rod, broke her cheekbone and ribs, and chased her with knives. Haskett shook his head as she spoke.
“Well, I’ve heard a lot of things that are not true,” Haskett said, when it was his turn to speak. He started to cry. “You know, I regret the idea that she’s paralyzed. I pray every day that she could walk.”
In court he repeated a story he gave to police in April: Shortly before Sparks lost the ability to walk, he said, she had fallen while under the influence of a drug, broken her tailbone, and gone to the hospital. A few days later Sparks fell again, he said. Haskett did not address the assault in his brief statement to the judge. He said the plea deal to which he agreed – 21 months in prison – seemed adequate.
“I mean, I don’t feel I deserve any more time,” he said. “I, you know, don’t even really feel I need this much time, but, you know, I don’t know what else to say. That’s out of my hand.”
A deputy prosecutor, Evan Jones, told the judge he was 100 percent confident Haskett caused the damage that paralyzed Sparks. However, he said, “I am less sure that a jury could be convinced that he assaulted her with the specific purpose of causing the harm that he did cause.”
Haskett admitted to second-degree domestic violence assault and felony harassment. Court records show he had been found guilty of many misdemeanors in Oregon over the past 30 years, including a domestic assault in 2014. He had never been convicted of a felony.
Haskett faced a range of 12 to 14 months in prison for the assault at the Villa Inn. The plea deal called for what’s termed as an exceptional sentence, above the standard. Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett approved the deal Thursday, though she said her gut instinct was to order more time, as Sparks had requested.
“I’m concerned, frankly, Mr. Haskett,” the judge said. “I’m very concerned that I don’t hear anything approaching that level of concern coming from you.”
She criticized Haskett for blaming the victim for what happened.
“The fact is this woman is paralyzed because you assaulted her,” Garrett said. “She may not have been perfect before that happened, but none of us is, and we’re not here to judge whether she had a drug problem, or acted in some way that was less than optimal. This woman was badly, badly injured. Her life will never be the same, and it’s because of the actions that you took.”
If you or someone you know needs help because of domestic violence, call the Bellingham office of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services at 360-715-1563. Or dial 911.