Sentencing date postponed to July in cruise ship killing

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 5:29 PM CDT
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A Topeka man convicted in December in the 2018 killing of his long-time girlfriend aboard a cruise ship outside American waters had a court history of four counts of domestic violence, according to U.S. District Court records examined Wednesday.

Eric Duane Newman, a Topekan, pleaded guilty on December 19, 2019, to one count of second-degree murder of Tamara Tucker, 50, who lived in Lawson, Mo.

Newman was to have been sentenced on June 5, but that date was re-scheduled to July 8 by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson.

In a court document, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Kenney said Newman's proposed sentence of 12 years in prison in the plea agreement was "balanced and fair.

"The deterrent effect of such a sentence of incarceration, given its length followed by a period of supervised release and the defendant's advanced age, is significant," Kenney wrote.

In a court document, Kenney noted Newman's acceptance of responsibility which resulted in a reduction of his sentence.

The prosecutor noted Tucker was a 50-year-old social worker from Missouri, and Newman and Tucker were in a long-term relationship. Tucker's family had purchased a round-trip cruise for Tucker and Newman from Jacksonville, Fla., to the Bahamas to celebrate Tucker's 50th birthday, Kenney wrote.

The cruise ship left Florida on January 18, 2018, and was to return four-days later.

On the first day, the two had been drinking at different places aboard the ship, then Tucker returned to the cabin, and Newman soon followed.

The two argued, he strangled her, and "in the process of strangling Tucker, the defendant pushed her over the balcony railing, and she fell three deck levels to her death, Kenney said.

When Newman pleaded guilty, he admitted he "acted with callous and wanton disregard for human life by pushing Tucker off the balcony railing, causing her to fall to her death," Kenney wrote. She died on her birthday, the prosecutor wrote.

Kenney said Newman had four prior misdemeanor convictions in Kansas tied to domestic violence, including a former wife and an ex-fiance, both of whom were mothers of the victim's children.

The battery convictions involve allegations of strangulation, Kenney wrote.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Thomas Bartee wrote that the court should accept a plea agreement in which Newman would be sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.

A 12-year prison term is lengthy for anyone, the defense said, noting that Newman is 55 years old and is a hardworking parent who has never been imprisoned before. Newman was a heavy equipment operator for 16 years, attended some college at Washburn University and the University of Kansas, has been employed all his adult life and has four children.

If the prosecution not agreed to the 12-year prison term, the case would have had significant litigation risks and costs for the prosecution, the defense said, noting there were witnesses from the Bahamas and perhaps other witnesses from other countries.

Also, the defense would have a strong argument supporting conviction of a lesser count of voluntary manslaughter, the defense said.

"This case involves what in all likelihood (was) an unintentional killing, committed after a violent argument while Mr.. Newman was heavily intoxicated," the defense wrote. In a five-and-a-half hour period, the couple consumed 22 drinks, bar receipts show.

The victim had a .22 percent alcohol level, the defense wrote. Newman wasn't tested, but he remained intoxicated after the incident, the defense wrote.

"Further evidence the killing was unintentional comes from the testimony of the first passengers to reach Ms. Tucker, who found Mr. Newman holding her head up and sobbing," the defense wrote.

Newman would be about 72 years when he finishes a 12-year prison term, Kenney wrote.