Deputy Who Shot Wife In Face Sentenced To Prison

A deputy sheriff who shot his wife in the face during an argument in front of their 4-year-old son was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in state prison for the Christmastime killing.

Lowell "Sam" Bruce, 42, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter more than a year ago in connection with the Dec. 14, 2006, death of 38-year-old Kristin Maxwell-Bruce, who was shot in the bedroom of the Alpine home they shared with her parents.

The lengthy lag in sentencing occurred because the trial judge in El Cajon refused to accept the plea bargain. The jurist, who wanted to be able to sentence the defendant to up to 21 years behind bars, was eventually removed for showing apparent bias and the case was reassigned to San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael Wellington.

The victim's father, Jim Maxwell, blamed the District Attorney's Office for letting Bruce plead guilty to manslaughter.

"Meaning no disrespect to this court, this was an act of murder, pure and simple," Maxwell told Wellington. "It's a shame the people representing the victims didn't see it this way and took the easy way out."

The victim's mother, Kay Maxwell, told the judge she was "frustrated, hurt and angered" over what she called a "miscarriage of justice" in the case.

The Maxwell family never agreed to the plea bargain, Kay Maxwell said.

"They (prosecutors) abandoned three victims -- a mother and her two sons," she said in urging the judge to sentence Bruce to 21 years in prison, although he told the victim's family that the law prohibited him from doing so. "Our son-in-law made a choice when he removed his service weapon from his holster," Kay Maxwell said. "In that moment, he robbed his boys of their mother."

She said she and her husband have put off retirement plans so they can raise their daughter's two boys, now 6 and 9 years old.

Deputy District Attorney Kimberlee Lagotta said the voluntary manslaughter plea reflected justice in the "cruel and callous" case of domestic violence that stemmed from a heated marital argument.

Cheryl Nolan, who has known Bruce since 10th grade, said he has always been a "soft-spoken and humble person" who has deep remorse for killing his wife and misses his boys very much.

For his part, Bruce apologized to the victim's family and still loves his wife.

"I wake up every morning looking for her," the tearful defendant said. "I love you boys and will never stop."

Bruce also apologized to his in-laws for "this unexpected traumatic change in your life."

The defendant, who worked at the Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility, said he was not a violent or aggressive person and described the homicide as "an unfortunate and uncharacteristic event."

The night of the shooting, Bruce said he "panicked" and failed to take control of the situation.

"My failure has left two wonderful boys without a mother," Bruce said.

Defense attorney Henry Coker told the court that Bruce got home from work about 7:15 p.m. the night of the shooting and had a routine dinner with his wife, boys, in-laws and his wife's grandfather.

Bruce then sat down to watch football on television, but his wife wanted him to help with putting the children to bed, checking on clothes in the dryer and working on a Christmas letter, Coker said.

Maxwell-Bruce went into her bedroom and later emerged, finding that Bruce had not done the chores she asked him to do, his attorney said.

"She was quite upset," according to Coker.

The victim then decided to kick her husband out of the house, which she had done before, and started throwing his clothes into the hallway, the attorney said.

Bruce tried to stop his wife and she became physically violent, hitting him in the back of the head with her fist and a coat hanger, his lawyer said.

The victim went into the bedroom closet and grabbed Bruce's service weapon, and he grabbed it from her, Coker said.

Their 4-year-old son, who was in his parents' bed trying to get to sleep, reportedly told Child Protective Services that he heard his mother say, "Go ahead and shoot me," according to Coker.

Bruce did not intentionally shoot his wife, but the gun discharged, hitting her in the mouth, Coker said.

The woman stayed on her feet and tried to call 911, but Bruce took the phone from her and dialed himself, begging for emergency personnel to hurry.

"He said, 'I (expletive) up. I shot my wife,'" Coker told the judge. "This was the voice of an anguished man."

Bruce walked his injured wife to the kitchen and told his in-laws that he had just shot their daughter, telling them she wasn't going to die, Coker said.

In pronouncing sentence, Wellington told the victim's mother and father that no parent should have to bury their child.

"It just violates the natural order of the universe," the judge said.

Outside court, Jim Maxwell said he was frustrated that Bruce didn't get more time in prison.

"I thinks it stinks," the victim's father told reporters, saying his daughter hated guns.

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