Moments after saying he had “no empathy” for the family of a slain precious metals shop employee, a Renton man was sentenced to 45 years in prison Wednesday.
Thomas Phillip Leae, 25, was convicted July 17 in Clark County Superior Court of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery, both with a firearm, and first-degree rendering criminal assistance in the 2015 slaying of Bentley Brookes, 58, of Camas.
Brookes was fatally shot during a Nov. 25, 2015, robbery at Pacific Bullion Precious Metals, 701 Main St., in downtown Vancouver.
Judge Gregory Gonzales ordered Leae’s sentence will run consecutive to a 25-year-to-life sentence in California for second-degree murder. That conviction stems from the death of Leae’s girlfriend, who was killed in a crash on Interstate 5 in Glenn County, Calif., as the couple fled authorities after the fatal robbery.
Prosecutors say Ailiana Siufanua, 18, of Des Moines shot Brookes while Leae drove the getaway vehicle. Surveillance footage at the shop captured the incident, and led to Siufanua’s parents identifying her as the shooter. Items stolen from the precious metals shop were located at the crash scene in California.
During Leae’s weeklong trial in Clark County, the defense and prosecution agreed that Siufanua shot Brookes but were at odds over whether Leae was the getaway driver and to what degree he facilitated the shooting.
Video surveillance less than two weeks before the shooting showed Leae conduct a transaction at the precious metal shop. A week before the shooting, additional footage showed him making another transaction as Siufanua stood behind him and studied the small store’s layout, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu argued.
A witness reported seeing the getaway vehicle, a silver Honda Civic, parked near the precious metals shop. The same witness reported that, while he couldn’t get a good view of the driver’s face, the driver appeared to have an Afro hairstyle and facial hair. The description partially matched Leae.
A person can be charged with murder in Washington if a first- or second-degree robbery results in homicide, even if they were an accomplice. The jury reached its verdict after deliberating for about 13 hours.
After the verdict was announced, Leae’s family began shouting at jurors and others in the courtroom, and had to be ushered out.
On Wednesday, roughly 10 Clark County sheriff’s deputies were present for sentencing. Leae’s family, however, did not attend.
Vu asked that Leae’s sentence run consecutive to his punishment in California, arguing that the convictions represented separate incidents.
“The facts of this case will live with Mr. Brookes’ family forever,” Vu said.
Several of Brookes’ family members spoke during the hearing.
“This gentleman, this person, this thing has affected so many lives,” Brookes’ brother Norbert Anderson said while pointing at Leae. Anderson then paused for a few moments. “God has his peace. I’m done. Thank you,” he added before briefly leaving the courtroom.
Family remembered Brookes as caring, compassionate, intelligent and active in the community. In a statement read by a victim advocate, Ally McNally, Brookes’ stepdaughter, said he would have helped Leae and Siufanua if they were in need.
“Instead, they made the world a darker place with his absence,” the statement read.
Deputy Lawrence Zapata, who was involved in the investigation, also read a prepared statement. Hours of reviewing text messages, photos and YouTube videos, along with face-to-face interaction, reflected “terribly” on Leae, he said.
“He presents himself as a violent, ruthless man, having no regard for anyone except himself,” Zapata said. “Thomas’ participation in Bentley’s murder wasn’t a contradiction of Thomas’s life but was a reflection of how he represents himself and was an expression of his ruthlessness.”
Defense attorney Tony Lowe asked the judge to run the sentence concurrent with the murder sentence in California. Lowe said Leae lost his girlfriend in the crash.
“You can take that in different ways, but he suffered a heavy penalty on that,” Lowe said.
Leae fidgeted in his chair throughout the hearing. On several occasions, he refused to answer Gonzales’ questions and, at one point, delivered an expletive-laden rant directed at Gonzales, Vu and Brookes’ family.
In a prepared statement, Leae said media coverage of his case, among other things, led to an unfair trial process.
“I am not guilty and remain not guilty,” Leae said.
He later turned toward Brookes’ family and said, “I have no empathy for you guys the way the jury had no empathy for me.”
As Gonzales handed down his sentence, he agreed with Brookes’ family that Brookes would have helped Leae if he had asked.
“You certainly, without a doubt, participated in the murder of Mr. Brookes,” Gonzales told Leae.
As the hearing winded down, Gonzales, in a seemingly sarcastic manner, praised Leae.
“Mr. Leae, I do have to commend you for being respectful to this court,” he said.
Leae responded, “(Expletive) this court.”