A transient man will be charged with first-degree murder for allegedly strangling 41-year-old Rubey A. Erickson, whose body was found near a homeless camp in a wooded area across from Bakerview Square on Monday, Nov. 23.
James Kevin Schultea, 45, told police he killed Erickson by wrapping a belt around her neck and strangling her while she slept, according to a police report Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran read at Schultea's first appearance in Superior Court Wednesday.
McEachran said he'll charge Schultea next week. Schultea remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail. His arraignment, where he'll enter a not-guilty plea and have his trial date set, will be Dec. 4.
Schultea was sentenced to time in a state prison last November for assault and theft convictions, and was released Aug. 28, said Chad Lewis, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections. He also has previous convictions for crimes against other homeless people.
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Erickson's naked body was found face down, with the belt still wrapped around her neck, in a small pond about 100 feet off the 400 block of West Bakerview Road at about 5:15 p.m. Monday, according to the police report.
She had been strangled, according to Gary Goldfogel of the Whatcom County Medical Examiner's Office. It was not immediately known whether any type of sexual assault had occurred.
Schultea called 911 and reported finding Erickson's body.
He told detectives that he met Erickson at about 2:30 p.m. Monday and knew her from attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 2008.
In his statement, Schultea said he, Erickson and a third person were drinking alcohol at a transient camp in the 400 block of West Bakerview.
They were talking about Erickson's failed relationships with abusive men. At one point during the conversation, Erickson got angry and walked away, Bellingham Police spokesman Mark Young said.
Schultea told detectives that he later found Erickson dead near a pond in the woods. Schultea suggested that the other person they were with that day was responsible, Young said.
Officers at the scene noticed that Schultea had mud on his pants; the area where Erickson was found was muddy, McEachran said.
The third person was located late Monday night and was interviewed at the police station. He did not have mud on his pants and was dismissed as a suspect after that interview, Young said.
Since being released from prison, Schultea has been on community supervision through the DOC and is forbidden to consume alcohol, Lewis said.
In their initial contact with Schultea on Monday, detectives noticed he was intoxicated. They called his community corrections officer to confirm the order not to consume alcohol and arrested him for the parole violation, Lewis said.
He was booked into the jail early Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday evening, Schultea consented to speak with detectives again. During that interview, he admitted to killing Erickson, Young said.
Schultea told detectives that he was with Erickson in a tent and wanted her to stop hurting emotionally. After she fell asleep, Schultea said he strangled her with the belt.
As Schultea dragged Erickson to the pond, her shirt came off, McEachran said. Schultea said he removed the rest of her clothing to make it appear she had been sexually assaulted, McEachran said.
McEachran said Schultea's statements to police satisfy the legal requirements of premeditation and intent that are elements of first-degree murder.
"He was going to end her hurting by killing her," McEachran said. "We believe the facts will establish the premeditation in the killing of Rubey Erickson."
Schultea's prison sentence was the second one he's served, Lewis said.
In 2006, Schultea was sentenced to three months of jail alternatives for setting fire to a transient woman's belongings in a camp in the 4400 block of Meridian Street.
In 2007, Schultea was sentenced to a year in prison for assaulting a homeless man and burning down his tent.
After his release in August, Lewis said Schultea had no parole violations until Monday.
This was the second homicide in Bellingham in four days. Bryan L. Marriott, 43, was found fatally shot late Friday on Ivy Street near North Garden Street. That was the first Bellingham homicide of 2009.