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Eureka man will be sentenced to 26 years to life in prison

On the eve of trial, James Robert Stanko pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of murder in an agreement that will see him sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison for his role in the Feb. 6, 2009, stabbing death of Andrew Pease.

With jury selection slated to begin Wednesday in his trial, Stanko entered into a plea agreement with the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday in which he agreed to plead guilty to charges of murder, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery with a total prison term of 26 years to life, according to court minutes obtained from Humboldt County court records.

As a part of the plea, Stanko waived all rights to appeal, according to the minutes.

Deputy District Attorney Allan Dollison declined to comment on the plea agreement Wednesday, citing a gag order that has been in place in the case since February 2009 and prohibits members of law enforcement, attorneys and court employees from discussing the case publicly

Stanko’s attorney, public defender Kevin Robinson, did not return a Times-Standard phone call seeking comment.

Stanko, 28, and James Robert Way, 31, both of Eureka, were on an armed robbery spree through the city on Feb. 6, 2009, having committed six in less than an hour, before they arrived in the parking lot of Ray’s Food Place on Broadway. There, they attempted to rob Pease, a 36-year-old Army veteran and father of two, who was working with a developmentally disable d teen at the time. The details of the altercation remain unclear, but Pease was reportedly stabbed 13 times and died within minutes as Way and Stanko fled the scene.

The two were arrested later that day, taken into custody without incident at the King Salmon home of an acquaintance. Shortly after their arrest, Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen issued a statement calling Pease’s death the result of “deranged individuals who had no regard for human dignity or human life.

”The ultimate tragedy is that in their quest for adventure, they forever and irrevocably impacted the lives of a family who lost a husband and a father…,” Nielsen said. “There is no explanation for such senseless violence, and there is no way that rational people can understand such evil.”

Way pleaded guilty in March to charges of voluntary manslaughter, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery. He was sentenced to serve 18 years, four months in prison.

Stanko, who police have fingered as the one who stabbed Pease, seemed poised to stand trial until entering into the plea agreement Wednesday.

In the weeks after his death, the local community mourned Pease, who friends and family remembered as a genuinely kind man with a dry sense of humor who loved music, had a passion for camping and adored his two sons, Caleb and Ethan.

Pease’s widow, Christan, expressed frustration in a recent interview that Stanko’s case was proceeding to trial, saying she wished Stanko would admit what he’d done and accept responsibility for his actions. She also said she dreaded the thought of sitting through a trial, and of having to relive the horrific event of her husband’s death repeatedly for months to come.__Christian Pease was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

Just weeks before his death, Pease was given a clean bill of health after spending several years fighting thyroid cancer. After years of studying, Pease also sat just a couple of classes shy of graduation after years of pursuing a history degree at Humboldt State University – a degree was eventually awarded posthumously.

”He was my soul mate…,” Christian Pease said of Andrew, with whom she spent 15 years. “I think my gift was taken away.”

Conceding that the last year of her life has been incredibly trying, Christian Pease said in an interview with the Times-Standard last month that she has been buoyed by the support of the local community. She expressed gratitude to the people – many of whom she had never met before – who went out of their way to help her, whether it be through donating to a fund set up for her children, attending Andrew’s memorial service or simply showing care and support when they realized who she was.

”The people here are beautiful,” she said.

Stanko is scheduled to appear in Humboldt County Superior Court on June 8 to be sentenced.

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com._

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