Wife of slain deputy tells heartbreaking stories of young sons asking to visit dad in heaven

TACOMA, Wash. -- A sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole was handed down Friday to the killer of Pierce County Deputy McCartney.

McCartney, 34, was shot while rushing to help residents during a home invasion in Frederickson, Wash., on January 7.

McCartney's wife, Cierra, spilled her heart out about the profound loss on Friday.

“Daniel was ripped from me and my sons a mere seven months ago,” Cierra said.

She says the murder has left a gaping hole in their lives.

“You never imagine having to tell your three young sons that their daddy was shot and killed and would not be coming home ever again,” Cierra said.

In court, Cierra stood inches away from Frank Pawul, the man who admitted to shooting and killing McCartney while trying to run away from the home invasion. Police say Pawul is one of four people involved in the crime.

“No longer able to wrestle with their dad, fish, have no worries, cuddle, read books, dance, camp -- all the things we did in our simple but beautiful life,” Cierra said.

Those moments replaced by these.

“How do you respond when your son comes out of the bathroom with daddy’s cologne on because he misses the smell of his dad?" Cierra asked.

In a particularly heartbreaking moment, Cierra told the judge at the sentencing that her sons often ask to visit their dad in heaven.

“How about when you are on an airplane and your son asks if we go higher, can we see dad?" she asked.

Shortly after accepting responsibility, Pawul said he regretted his actions and never expected anything like that to happen.

“Truly sorry for everything that happened. Most serious thing I am sorry about is that two fathers got taken away from their minor children,” Pawul said, referring to McCartney and another suspect who was killed that night.

It was Pawul’s idea not to fight the charges against him and to accept a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

“We prefer the death penalty. However, to not put our family through any more emotional trauma, we know this is the best option,” Cierra said.

Amid the heartache, Cierra said, she is determined to find the joy, to remember her husband’s legacy of protecting his family, his friends his community.

“Our boys will grow up to be strong men like their dad and contribute to society,” Cierra said.

The Pierce County Prosecutors Office says what happened was not a plea deal.

But because Pawul pleaded guilty, the case was wrapped up in less than a year, compared with the three years it could have taken for the family to get some justice.

On Friday, the courtroom was packed with loved ones and many Pierce County sheriff's deputies who came to show support. Cierra thanked those in law enforcement and the public for all the compassion they have provided for her family.

But Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said it’s the community that tremendously owes the families of the fallen.

“Harm to someone who carries a badge is a harm for every one of us,” Pastor said.

“I know the community needs justice; this case today was a major step forward but there is still major work to be done,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said.

Two women in the case are awaiting trial, charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping. Brenda Troyer and Samantha Jones are expected to go to trial early next year.

A fourth suspect, Henry Carden, was found dead at the scene. He had suffered several gunshot wounds, including a wound to the head.