OMAK — In a surprise move, an Omak man pleaded guilty Wednesday to the first-degree premeditated murder of a 59-year-old woman who was bludgeoned to death and then dumped on a remote road in October 2011.
Benjamin R. Bridges, 46, was scheduled to go to trial in Okanogan County Superior Court next week for killing Vickey Lee Harvey, a former Omak cheerleader and homecoming queen who went on to raise her family in the Omak area.
Instead, he will be sentenced June 20.
Okanogan County Prosecutor Karl Sloan said as part of the plea deal, he agreed to recommend a 24-year prison sentence — the low end of the sentencing range if he were convicted by a jury.
A judge will determine whether to accept that recommendation at his sentencing.
The high end of that range would put Bridges in prison for just over 32 years, Sloan said. He said he also dropped a deadly weapons enhancement as part of the plean agreement, which could have added two more years to the sentence.
Sloan said he discussed the plea offer with Harvey’s family before formally accepting it Wednesday.
“We’re happy that the family — the victim’s daughter for example — doesn’t have to sit through the trial, and all the things that go along with that as far as testimony and photographs,” Sloan said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that the victim is gone, and that loss is never recoverable.”
Harvey’s cousin, Jana Dieter, said Harvey’s family is planning to come together for Bridges’ sentencing, when they hope to find some closure.
“I’m happy that there will be no trial, and he’s owning up to what he did,” she said.
Dieter said she and Harvey spent a lot of time together, both growing up and after finishing school.
“We played dress up and had tea parties. We went through school together, and had kids together,” she said, adding, “She was just a really good person. She had two beautiful daughters and beautiful grandchildren.”
Sloan said police hadn’t determined why Bridges struck Harvey several times in the head, ultimately killing her before driving to a private road outside of Bridgeport, where he dumped her body. A resident found her between one and four days after investigators believe she was killed.
He said it appeared the two were in some kind of relationship. “They had been staying together,” he said, qualifying the charge as domestic violence.
Sloan said a murder weapon was never found, and where she was killed also remains undetermined. But at one point, Bridges told investigators he hit Harvey with a rock after pulling over on Highway 97 somewhere between Omak and Brewster. A witnesses, however, had reported seeing her, apparently unconscious, in Omak, near the Kat’s Kradel, a thrift store where Bridges worked. Blood splatter found at the thrift store offer evidence that she may have been killed there, according to court filings.
The case was initially charged in Douglas County, and then moved to Okanogan County after Bridges’ lawyers requested the change based on the probably location of Harvey’s death.
Bridges had no prior felonies that were violent crimes, although he had been convicted on several drug charges.