Crime

‘We were never going to find justice.’ Ferndale woman sentenced for husband’s death

A Ferndale woman who was originally charged with murder for stabbing her husband to death three years ago will spend less than a year in jail.

Jessica Nereyda Inda, 25, pleaded guilty Oct. 7 in Whatcom County Superior Court to second-degree assault (domestic violence) and was sentenced to nine months in jail with 1 ½ years of probation. Inda is eligible for work release and has to undergo a drug and alcohol evaluation, as well as comply with any treatment recommendations. Inda also is required to pay $5,750 in restitution.

Inda was previously charged with second-degree murder (domestic violence) for the death of her husband, 26-year-old Alberto Manuel Mora-Morales. Her reduced charge was part of a plea deal and extensive negotiations between prosecuting and defense attorneys.

“It’s a terrible thing, it’s a terrible loss of life,” Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey said. “We were never going to find justice in this case. It’s hard as a prosecutor to reduce a murder charge like this. It’s a difficult decision for us of course, but I think it’s the only one that’s reasonable and made sense, and that’s why we are where we are.”

A self-defense claim

Richey said that while Inda admitted to stabbing her husband, he didn’t believe the prosecution would be able to get a conviction if the case went to trial because Inda said she acted in self-defense. Richey said he didn’t take his decision about the plea deal lightly, and that he consulted with several other attorneys, including former longtime county prosecutor David McEachran, before making his decision.

“I have to be clear, that while I believe Ms. Inda’s self-defense claim is very strong, I do not believe it is true, which is why I didn’t just dismiss the charge,” Richey said.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Oct. 4, Whatcom County Chief Deputy Public Defender Angela Anderson said Inda was evaluated by Carolyn West, a professor at the University of Washington Tacoma who has over 30 years of research and clinical work with women in trauma and domestic violence. West learned that Inda and Mora-Morales met when she was 14, he 17, and the two became romantically involved.

Inda told West that she suffered years of physical, emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of Mora-Morales. Inda said his meth use contributed to the violence, court records state. West applied a danger assessment to Inda, which is a 20-item instrument used to determine the level of danger an abused woman has of being killed by her intimate partner. A score of 10 or higher represents “a high potential lethality for domestic violence homicide,” court records state. Inda was scored as a 10, the records show.

On the morning of Oct. 2, 2016, Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies were called to the 1000 block of Piper Road, east of Ferndale, for the report of a stabbing. Mora-Morales was found inside the home. He had died from a single stab wound to the neck, records state.

Inda first told deputies that Mora-Morales had tried to kill himself, but later admitted to stabbing him, records show. It was determined later that Inda had been violently assaulted the night before Mora-Morales’ death, and that she had injuries consistent with the assault. This, along with the pattern of domestic violence abuse and a defense position that Mora-Morales was assaulting her at the time he was stabbed, was the basis for Inda’s self-defense claim, the records show. It’s also what led to the plea agreement between the prosecution and defense, court records state.

“Until today we were not able to tell the story of Ms. Inda. Her marriage was an abusive one, plagued by her husband’s violence and drug use. I am convinced that Ms. Inda was defending herself when she stabbed Mr. Mora-Morales,” Anderson said. “This resolution acknowledges she was the victim of severe domestic violence and allows Ms. Inda an opportunity to avoid prison and to be present as a mother.”

A life that mattered

Mora-Morales’ brother, Ivan, said in a prepared victim impact statement read by a victim’s advocate that Mora-Morales’ death deeply impacted him and his family. He said they still think about Mora-Morales daily, and that their grief over his loss has increased with time.

“We felt like we were dangling with no sense of resolution. Each day — 1,095 days — we asked ourselves, when is there going to be justice? Didn’t Alberto’s life matter in our city? In this country?” the victim’s advocate read.

Mora-Morales’ family said that while two or 10 years wouldn’t bring him back, they wanted Inda to be sentenced to more time, saying it would better reflect justice.

“Our family will always live with deep sorrow, but we want to move forward and believe that in this community every person matters,” the victim’s advocate read of Mora-Morales’ brother’s statement.

Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault, you can contact the following local resources for free, confidential support:

Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services: 24-hour Help Line: 360-715-1563, Email: info@dvsas.org.

Lummi Victims of Crime: 360-312-2015.

Bellingham Police: You can call anonymously at 360-778-8611, or go online at cob.org/tips.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.
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