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Adams gets 22 months

A palpable tension and an empty center aisle cleanly bisected two polarized groups Friday afternoon in Island County Superior Court as the judge prepared to sentence Tracy Adams, the former Whidbey General Hospital paramedic who illegally accessed his ex-girlfriend’s computerized dating account and email.

In the end, the 22-month sentence handed down by Judge Alan Hancock was thought extreme by some and far too lenient by others.

The 39-year-old Adams was found guilty of 10 felony counts of computer trespass in the first degree after a week-long trial.

Accepting a joint motion by County Prosecutor Greg Banks and Defense Attorney Charles Arndt, Judge Hancock agreed to vacate three of the 10 counts that took place in Whatcom County. In exchange, the defendant waived his rights to ask for the first-time offender sentencing option of 90 days or to file future appeals.

Given the felonious charges, the standard sentencing range for Adams’ crimes was 43 to 57 months in prison. Banks said the court was placed in a strange position as it attempted to assign accurate proportionality to the offense and the punishment.

Splitting the difference between the zero to 90 day first-time offender sentence, which was already off the table, and the harsh upper sentence, both the prosecution and defense recommended a 22-month sentence, the top end of the new standard range.

Arndt said he had reviewed the appeal options with Adams and the defendant was amenable to the joint motion.

“Frankly he’s worn out,” Arndt said. “He’s ready to put this to bed and move on.”

“It’s taken us nearly two years to get this case to this point,” Banks said.

As the attorneys discussed the possible prison terms, one side of the courtroom filled almost entirely with paramedics and EMTs supporting their former coworker, crossed fingers and attempted to affect a more positive outcome by employing hope and prayers. It was all being filmed by a crew from the TV show, “Inside Edition.” A crew member said it will be telecast “in the coming weeks.”

The other side of the room was less sympathetic. The victim, Yvette Esparza, sat near Adams’ former coworker, paramedic Richard King, who described the defendant as manipulative and volatile during his testimony Friday.

“I know I did the right thing,” he said, adding that he feared for his own safety and the safety of his family.

Hancock told the court that he had been inundated with letters, including statements from the victim, her husband and parents, and King.

The judge then proceeded to read off a list of approximately 12 people who submitted written testimony in support of Adams.

Esparza described at length a life filled with constant fear marred by what she called controlling and obsessive behavior. She shouldered a portion of the blame for not severing the ties more emphatically. Adams reportedly threatened her each time she tried to end the relationship.

“He told me if he couldn’t have me, nobody could,” she said.

Esparza said Adams did irreparable harm to her life and to her family’s.

“I’ve been a prisoner in my own home, in my own life,” she said. “I’ve had little rest. I’ve had no peace. I’ve become half alive inside.”

A cacophony of uncomfortable sighs and audible shuffling clearly conveyed the feelings of Adams’ coworkers when Esparza beseeched Hancock to impose the maximum sentence to set an example. She further claimed that the defendant offered her money not to testify or to perjure herself.

Arndt said the descriptions offered up by King and Esparza were exaggerations and distortions of reality.

Two coworkers painted a very different picture of Adams. Deb Crager said she found herself compelled to speak on behalf of the former paramedic. Although she initially thought Adams was arrogant, her opinion markedly changed over time. The litigation had drained his funds, she said, while stripping him of his career and an opportunity to reenlist in the military. Arguably the most tragic casualty was the effect his incarceration would have on his four children.

“I’ve been very impressed with the changes that have taken place,” Crager said. “This has been humbling, but it didn’t break his spirit. I think he’s a better person now than he’s ever been. Poorer, but better.”

“He is not an evil stalker as it’s been reported,” said coworker Geoff Newton. “He’s a human being with human flaws.”

Janette Lowe, Adams’ ex-wife, said her letter to the judge was accompanied by letters from her parents and siblings, all of whom she said would continue to respect the defendant. In the 11 years of marriage and the nearly 20 years she’s known Adams, Lowe said her safety was never a concern.

“He’s a kind, loving father,” she said.

The children, ages 13, 11, 8 and 6, have been devastated by the tragic circumstances, Lowe said.

“They love him, they respect him, they want him to be an active part of their lives, and if he’s in prison, he won’t be able to do that,” she said.

Arndt pointed out that his client had expressed regret for his actions and his testimony reflected his contrition.

Addressing the court, Adams called his crimes “ethically and morally wrong.”

“I read emails. I never denied that. Not after the arrests. I testified to that. I made some mistakes,” he said.

Adams claimed his crimes were committed as he attempted to make the relationship work. The suicide of his 15-year-old son sent him in search of answers, he said.

“That was part of my motivation with Yvette to try to figure out what happened,” he continued.

Adams denied ever stalking or threatening Esparza. He also characterized her allegations as decidedly false.

“I quietly looked into a world looking for answers I couldn’t find any other way,” he offered as an explanation for his actions.

Adams asked the judge for leniency in imposing a sentence, primarily to truncate the separation from his children.

“If nothing else happened to me today, I’ve still been badly punished for accessing an email account 10 times,” he said. “The longer I’m away from my children, the more they’ll suffer. Please don’t make my children suffer longer than necessary.”

Hancock said the disturbing aspect of Adams’ crimes was the intent to commit malicious mischief in the third degree. The judge said it was evident the defendant was obsessed with the victim.

“We value our privacy in our society,” Hancock said. When privacy is violated, he said that substantial punishment is necessary.

Accepting the joint motion, Adams was sentenced to 22 months in prison. He can have no contact with the victim, her husband or her children for a period of five years. Hancock approved allowing Adams to report Feb. 1 to begin his sentence.

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