In an emotion filled courtroom, a King County judge Friday afternoon sentenced Thomasdinh Bowman to 29 years in prison for murdering Capitol Hill QFC wine steward Yancy Noll in 2012. Judge Bruce Heller said Bowman, 32, “showed an utter detachment from the terror he caused” and displayed an “extreme lack of empathy for another human being.” Heller noted that Bowman had no prior criminal record and the shooting appeared to be out of character, but the judge was not convinced Bowman acted out of self-defense.
Bowman faced a maximum 32-year sentence for the murder under state sentencing guidelines. Sobbing through much of the hour-long hearing, Bowman asked the judge for mercy in a brief statement he gave before the sentence was delivered.
“I pray for the friends and family of Mr. Noll… that they’re able to find some closure in this horrible chapter of their lives,” Bowman said. “I’m disappointed that the jurors didn’t believe me.”
Defense attorney John Henry Browne said Bowman was sorry for what he had done, and that Bowman expressed his remorse when he attempted to commit suicide by slitting his wrist in jail the day he was found guilty.
Friends and family of both Noll and Bowman packed into the courtroom on Friday to read statements and, hopefully, find some closure. Noll’s best friend and best man at his wedding Rick Glein asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
“I miss having a cold beer with him after hiking,” Glein said, “He was like a brother to me.”
In December, a King County jury found Bowman guilty of first degree murder after one day of deliberation. Bowman shot Noll multiple times while both men sat in their cars at the intersection of 15th Ave NE and 75th. Jurors upheld the prosecutor’s claims that Bowman was a “student of murder” who sought a random target to kill. Bowman and Noll had never met.
During the three week trial, the defense did not call any witnesses to the stand to support Bowman’s claims that he shot Noll in self-defense following a road rage incident. However, Bowman’s attorney filed more than 30 letters from Bowman’s family and friends urging the judge to be lenient in his sentence.
Bowman’s parents, Thom and Hong, wrote about their son’s strong work ethic and his commitment to his wife and to Christianity. Both addressed the court on Friday
“With broken hearts we accept our son was the instrument in Mr. Noll’s death,” Thom Bowman said.
The Bowmans said they never talked to their son during the trial and that Bowman asked his wife not to attend to protect her from “prying interests.”
Several church officials, including one bishop in Vietnam, wrote letters in support of Bowman. In a written statement to the court, defense attorney John Henry Browne argued for the minimum sentence as Bowman’s actions represented “a marked deviation in an otherwise law-abiding life.”
Bowman testified that prior to the shooting, Noll threw a wine bottle and water bottle into his convertible while both traveling along I-5. Bowman said that he feared for his life when he saw Noll reach for something in his car. During the trial he said he didn’t remember firing the fatal shots.
Following the shooting, Bowman went to great lengths to evade police. He was arrested three weeks later when a tipster recognized a sketch of the suspect that police created with the help of witnesses. During the trial, Bowman said he threw away the bottles that he said Noll tossed into his car. During the sentencing, the judge cast doubt on the story, saying a man as smart as Bowman would not have thrown away the one piece of evidence that supports his story.
Prior to Friday’s sentencing, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg was adamant that the maximum sentence should imposed.
“He appears to have no sense of morality,” Satterberg wrote in a statement. “Thomasdinh Bowman is a very, very dangerous man. Any sentence less than the maximum jeopardizes community safety.”
Browne vowed to appeal the conviction after it was handed down in November. Under the law, Bowman could have asked the judge to have the jury consider a second degree murder charge. Instead, Browne said Bowman wanted to challenge the first degree charge head-on.
Noll began working as the Broadway Market QFC wine steward in August 2010. Following his death, coworkers and customers expressed an outpouring of grief online and at a roadside memorial. On Friday, Noll’s fiancee Jody Wirtz reminded the court that that grief may never fully subside. “I miss Yancy every day. I was supposed to grow old with him,” she said.