Man sentenced to 22 years for murder of stepfather near Sudden Valley

Joshua Aaron Adams
Joshua Aaron Adams The Bellingham Herald

A Whatcom County man with a history of mental illness must serve 22 years in prison for murdering his stepfather a year ago at a home on Lake Louise Drive, a Whatcom County judge ruled Monday, March 23.

Joshua Aaron Adams shot Steven Roy Siebert, 60, three times with a double-barreled 20-gauge shotgun on Jan. 21, 2014, in the kitchen of the Sieberts’ three-story home near Sudden Valley, according to charging papers. Another one of Siebert’s sons found him dead that evening.

By then Adams, 42, who lived a 10-minute walk down the street on Magnolia Drive, had fled to Skagit County in a red Subaru Legacy that had been parked in the driveway. He’d taken the family dog, too.

Four hours later. a man and a large yellow dog got out of a red Subaru at a Shell station on Highway 20. Together they got into a black Ford F-150 that was refueling, then drove off, leaving the stolen Subaru behind. Sheriff’s deputies in Island County caught up to the truck on the highway. They chased Adams southward with lights and sirens blaring.

Law enforcement took out the tires with spike strips near Greenbank, eight miles into the chase, but the Ford kept going for another 12 minutes before a sergeant could cut him off where the highway narrows. Adams got out, started to pace back and forth and put his hands in the air. The sergeant tackled him.

Adams confessed to shooting Siebert, his adoptive father.

“I’m a criminal, and I just killed my dad,” he told detectives.

Yet he never articulated why.

“There really was no explanation,” Whatcom County Public Defender Jon Komorowski said Monday. “It’s really hard to go back and figure out why. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Eric Richey formally charged him with murder in the first degree, meaning premeditated murder. Charging papers note that Adams would have needed to reload the gun at least once, perhaps a sign of some forethought. (The shotgun and ammo had been stolen from an upstairs room in the house; the gun was found two days later in Lake Louise.)

In a plea deal, the charge was reduced to murder in the second degree while armed with a firearm, in large part because it wasn’t clear how aware Adams was of his actions.

“Reasonable minds could come to different conclusions about how much it was premeditated,” Richey said.

Adams had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression. At least one doctor considered him delusional and, due to his struggles in social situations, to have a mild form of Asperger’s. He’d been prescribed Adderall, the antipsychotic drug risperidone, and Neurontin for chronic back pain, according to mental health records in his case file.

“He was not on the medication that he is now,” Komorowski said, “and I think that may have been a contributing factor to this.”

Under state law, Adams’ standard sentencing range was roughly 10 to 18 years, plus five more years because he committed the crime while armed with a firearm. The plea bargain suggested a prison term at the top of the range. Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig approved the plea deal Monday as he sentenced Adams to 22 years behind bars.

The judge nixed a no-contact order, allowing Adams to speak with and write to his mother, Siebert’s widow, while he’s in prison.

“She’s not only lost her husband, but in a sense lost her son,” Komorowski said.

Adams had a history of misdemeanors, e.g., obstructing law enforcement, misdemeanor burglary and reckless driving, but no felonies as an adult. In state prison he’ll be evaluated for treatment for domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health problems and anger management.