Woman sentenced for estranged wife's murder

Posted at 10:43 AM, Jan 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-22 14:56:07-05

A woman who fatally stabbed her estranged wife as the victim slept in her San Carlos apartment was sentenced Friday to 20 years to life in state prison.

Tiffany Nowden, who turns 41 tomorrow, pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder.

"Drugs played a big part in why this happened," said Deputy Public Defender Mignon Hilts. "She (Nowden) will never forgive herself for what she has done."

Superior Court Judge Frederic Link said that when drugs weren't around, Nowden and the victim, Russina Vale, were fine. The judge warned against the "dumbing down" of America's drug laws.

"Drugs cause  problems, drugs cause death," Link said.   

Vale's sister, Sandra Carlson, said she will tell her two children what happened to their aunt when they get older.

"I will tell my kids what happened," Carlson said. "I can forgive. That's what I want them to know about this."

At an earlier hearing, Deputy District Attorney Lindsey Carinci said Nowden and Vale -- who had an "on-and-off" relationship -- reconnected in November 2013 and got married early the next year.

Things seemed to be going along well until May 2014, when the 38-year-old Vale got into an argument with Nowden at the Barona Casino, where the victim worked. Nowden was escorted off the premises, Carinci said.

The prosecutor said Vale sent an email to family and friends stating that her relationship with Nowden was over and that she was going to get a divorce.

The morning of June 5, 2014, Vale's co-workers went to her residence on Mission Gorge Road when she failed to show up for work. They did not get an answer when they knocked on the door.

Several hours later, police got a call from a local defense attorney, informing them that they might find a deceased person inside the Mission Gorge Road address. Officers who made entry found a naked Vale dead in her bed. She had been stabbed in the stomach, right arm and chest, Carinci said.

A witness placed Nowden at the crime scene about 5:30 a.m. the morning of the murder, according to the prosecutor.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Glenn Wagner testified that a stab wound under Vale's armpit pierced her heart and lungs. He said her killer wielded a large kitchen knife, possibly a butcher knife.

Wagner said the victim could have been dead for up to 24 hours before her body was discovered about 6 p.m.

A U.S. Marshals Service task force found Nowden three weeks later at a home on Market Street in Sherman Heights and took her into custody without incident.