SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — A Sonoma County Superior Court judge Tuesday sentenced a Sonoma Valley man to six years in prison for the voluntary manslaughter of his wife last year.
Steven Rothschild, 73, was charged with the beating and strangulation murder of Juanita Rothschild, 67, in the couple’s Boyes Hot Springs home on Aug. 4, 2017. He was convicted by a jury in September of the manslaughter charge.
Defense attorney Stephen Gallenson argued during the trial that Rothschild was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after years of emotional and verbal abuse by his wife of 36 years.
Rothschild testified at his trial that he “snapped” and he could only recall “snapshots” of the beating and strangulation of his wife as she sat on the couch in the living room.
Deputy District Attorney Javier Vaca asked the jury in September to convict Rothschild of first-degree murder. He said Rothschild was in a rage when he punched his wife at least seven times and strangled her.
Vaca told the jury the assault was “a long drawn-out attack,” and he said Rothschild knew what he was doing at the time and could have stopped the assault as he watched his wife suffer.
Vaca told Judge Dana Simonds this morning that Rothschild hid behind the PTSD diagnosis defense. He said Rothschild’s apology for his wife’s death was “a last-ditch effort” for a lower sentence, and he asked Simonds to sentence Rothschild to 11 years in prison.
Gallenson asked Simonds to consider sentencing his client to probation or at most a mid-term sentence of six years.
Simonds said Rothschild was eligible for probation because of his age and lack of a prior record, but it would not be appropriate because of the violence of the offense.
She agreed with the prosecution that aggravating factors also included the victim’s vulnerability and medical condition.
Simonds said there were “long-standing marital issues in the couple’s marriage” and “substantial and significant distress” for both husband and wife.
“There is never only one party at fault,” Simonds said.
“They became like oil and water,” she said.
Juanita’s family members and friends expressed anger outside the courtroom after the sentencing.
Psychologist Lee Ginsburg, of Sonoma, said Rothschild’s PTSD diagnosis was not made until after the murder. “PTSD is the new replacement for the old insanity defense,” Ginsburg said.
“We’re all disappointed,” Ginsburg said. “The district attorney didn’t call enough expert witnesses on PTSD, and the defense’s presentation was a well-coached act,” Ginsburg said.
Gallenson said the case was a tragedy for the victim and defendant.
“There were two victims. The jury and the court recognized that,” Gallenson said.
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said this afternoon, “There was one victim and unfortunately she was not able to speak for herself. Her life was taken wrongfully.
“This was domestic violence. We respect the jury’s verdict but believe an individual who commits violence to others should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Ravitch said.