A ZIMBABWEAN man who killed his girlfriend during a row over dirty dishes in Bonney Lake, Washington, and tried to burn her remains to cover his tracks has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for the brutal killing.
Mthulisi Ndlovu, 39, pleaded guilty earlier this month to second-degree murder for beating Mary Mushapaidze, 42, with one of the handles from a set of pruning shears and then burning her body on the night of October 8, 2011.
Superior Court Judge, Katherine Stolz, dismissed Ndlovu’s plea that he was the victim of domestic abuse saying the claims were not corroborated by the facts and handed him a high-end sentence for killing his live-in girlfriend.
"This was a brutal crime and a sad case," Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said. "The defendant deserved the high-end sentence he received."
Ndlovu’s lawyer, Helen Whitener, had argued that her client deserved a low-end sentence because he was emotionally and physically abused by Mushapaidze.
A psychiatric nurse hired by Whitener also said Ndlovu suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after allegedly witnessing atrocities back home in Zimbabwe. The nurse, who spoke with Ndlovu extensively while he sat in jail awaiting trial, painted Mushapaidze as controlling and abusive.
But Friends of the couple told a different story in court and in letters to the judge, calling Mushapaidzi a loving mother, attentive friend and hard worker, deputy prosecutor Fred Wist said. Mushapaidze was the mother of three children, including Ndlovu’s young daughter.
The court heard that on October 9, 2011, Ndlovu reported to Bonney Lake Police that his girlfriend of three years was missing. He claimed the Mashapaidze had gone for a run early that morning and failed to return.
Officers went to the couple’s home and, after noticing a burning smell, obtained a search warrant. Inside the home they found blood streaks leading from the kitchen to the garage.
In the garage were five empty gas cans and a 55-gallon sealed metal drum. Ndlovu claimed he had burned junk mail in the garage. Investigators pried open the metal barrel and found charred human remains.
Under questioning, he eventually admitted to killing Mashapaidze during an argument. He punched her, strangled her, and struck her in the head with a pair of long handled pruning shears.
After realizing she was dead, he dragged her body into the garage, put her in a metal barrel, added charcoal, and lit it on fire. An autopsy determined the victim suffered several deep lacerations to her skull that caused extensive bleeding and that she may have been alive when the defendant put her in the barrel.
In court, Deputy Prosecutor Fred Wist successfully argued for the high end of the sentencing range, citing the brutality of the killing, the defendant’s extensive attempts to conceal the crime, and the fact that the victim’s two children, ages 8 and 2, were present at the time of the murder.
On the night of the murder, the 8-year-old reported being upstairs and hearing loud banging noises below, followed by his mother’s cry of “help.” A neighbour reported hearing loud thuds followed by whimpering that sounded like “a dog being beaten with a baseball bat.”
Ndlovu told the children the smoke in the house was from him burning toast. After concealing the victim’s body and cleaning the crime scene, he went to work, leaving the children home alone.
The court heard that brutal crime deeply affected the tightly knit local Zimbabwean community. In letters to the court, family and friends wrote of the victim as a loving, hard working, and selfless woman who left a small village in Zimbabwe to seek a better life in the United States.
She worked as the manager of a retail store, living frugally and sending money to her family. At the time of her death, Mashapaidze was planning a 2012 trip to Zimbabwe, her first visit home in 10 years.