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Daughter pleads not guilty in mother’s murder

Police investigators tape off an area in front of the residence where a 60-year-old Sumner woman was found dead. - Photo by Dannie Oliveaux
Police investigators tape off an area in front of the residence where a 60-year-old Sumner woman was found dead.
— image credit: Photo by Dannie Oliveaux

The day after a Sumner woman was found dead in her home, her daughter pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder in Pierce County Superior Court.

Laura Jennette Jonston, 20, was arraigned Feb. 24 and prosecutors charged her with two counts of murder in the stabbing death of 60-year-old Shirley J. Miluk, according to Deputy Prosecutor Edmund M. Murphy.

Murphy said Jonston was charged with one count of first-degree murder and one court of second-degree murder. He said prosecutors sometimes file more than one count of murder against a defendant to increase their options during a trial during the plea-bargaining process.

Murphy said Jonston was ordered to Pierce County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bail set by Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson.

Miluk was found dead about 12:05 p.m. Feb. 23 inside her apartment on 153rd Avenue Court East, according to city spokeswoman Carmen Palmer.

According to court documents, at approximately 10:49 a.m. on the 23rd, a Sumner police officer went to Miluk’s home after a woman called and reported she was unable to contact her mother by phone. The officer found the doors locked but was able to obtain a key. Once inside, officers found a heavily blood-stained blanket covering Miluk’s body in the living room of the two-story apartment. She had multiple stab wounds, police reported.

It was a second daughter, not Jonston, who called police. The daughter told officers Jonston had called her at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 23, stating that their mother had kicked her out of the apartment the night before, along with her 13-month-old child. Jonston reportedly then walked around Sumner and Puyallup all night.

Court documents state police found Jonston in a store parking lot, then transported her and the child to the police station to interview. She told investigators Miluk kicked her and her child out of the apartment they shared the night of Feb. 22, but later recanted her story.

Jonston told police she and her mother had been drinking and her mother began to “freak out.” She claimed her mother struck her first with a lamp and chased her around the apartment, bit her fingers, threw a jar at her and tried to attack her with a decorative rooster statue, documents state.

According to the court report, Jonston said she armed herself with a knife and stabbed Miluk in the stomach while the two were in the living room. She said they struggled over the knife on the floor and Miluk was able to get the knife away from her. Jonston claimed she kicked the knife out of her mother’s hand and the fight stopped for short time. The two women hugged each other, then Miluk slapped Jonston in the face, the defendant claimed in the court document.

Jonston said her mother again got the knife, but she took it away and then stabbed her mother in the back, causing the death.

Jonston said there was at least a 20-minute period between the stabbings and claimed she stabbed her mother only twice, the court report stated.

A search of the apartment revealed two knives bundled together in a cloth under am upstairs bed. The knives were consistent with the kitchen cutlery in the apartment, court records state.

A preliminary examination showed the victim was stabbed nine times and had defensive wounds to her hands and one leg.

Prosecutors stated in the document Miluk recently had back surgery and was on pain medication. They describe her condition as “frail” and that she used a cane to get around.

According to media reports, Jonston had been charged with fourth-degree assault-domestic violence after another incident with her mother in 2006.

The defendant’s child was placed with relatives after her arrest.

Jonston was a former student at Sumner High, according to Ann Cook, communication director for the Sumner district.

Miluk’s death is the third murder in Sumner since 2006. The last homicide in the city was on April 9, 2007, when Michael J. Erskine, a 19-year-old Federal Way resident, was shot and killed in a trailer in the 6100 block of 160th Avenue East. The gunman, Ronald A. Westerbur, 23, then killed himself.

Patrick Luigi Piccolo, 25, was fatally shot once in the neck in the 2100 block of Cottage Road on Oct. 9, 2006. Prosecutors charged Jason Stowe with first-degree murder in the case.

Reach Dannie Oliveaux at doliveaux@courierherald.com or 360-802-8209.

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