Man convicted in ferry stabbing to spend more than four years in prison

Posted 11/13/20

The Burlington man accused of stabbing another passenger on the ferry M/V Kennewick before it docked in Port Townsend in September pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to 57 …

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Man convicted in ferry stabbing to spend more than four years in prison

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The Burlington man accused of stabbing another passenger on the ferry M/V Kennewick before it docked in Port Townsend in September pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to 57 months in prison Friday in Jefferson County Superior Court.

Gabriel Thomas Dignum, 22, reached a plea deal last week with prosecutors. In exchange for his guilty pleading, prosecutors agreed to drop a pending criminal case in Skagit County where Dignum was facing third-degree assault charges for allegedly assaulting a corrections officer.

Dignum was arrested by police just after the ferry from Whidbey Island docked Sept. 9 at the Port Townsend Ferry Terminal.

Police said Dignum, who grew up in Jefferson County, had been traveling with a woman on the ferry when they got into an argument with another passenger on the boat.

The verbal dispute escalated into a physical fight and Dignum stabbed the other man in the back with a butterfly knife, according to a statement of probable cause prepared by the Washington State Patrol.

Crew members on the ferry broke up the fight and treated the victim’s wound as Dignum tried to slip away.

He changed his clothes while he was on the ferry in an attempt to avoid being identified by police, the State Patrol said in court documents, but the crew of the Kennewick alerted police of the assault. Officers from the Port Townsend Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and State Patrol responded to the Port Townsend Ferry Terminal, and the Coast Guard was also notified. 

When the boat docked, the ferry crew and others aboard the vessel pointed out Dignum as the man involved in the stabbing, and he was taken into custody by Port Townsend police.

Authorities said Dignum matched a description of the assailant, but noted his clothes did not match witness accounts. Police later found clothes that matched witness reports in Dignum’s backpack.

The ferry worker who had stopped the fight also pointed out Dignum as the man who had stabbed the other passenger.

During a court appearance last week, Dignum's attorney told the judge he had agreed to change his initial pleading of not guilty.

"We really appreciate Mr. Dignum's willingness to take responsibility early on in the case," Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Anna K. Phillips told Superior Court Judge Keith Harper during a court hearing Friday, Nov. 13.

Phillips said the stabbing affected more than just the victim of the assault.

The whole community was impacted, she said, as well as the many law enforcement officers who responded to the incident, plus everyone aboard the ferry.

There were many passengers on the ferry, Phillips said, who had to be stopped and questioned "and were pretty scared about the whole situation."

Phillips said Dignum, though a young man, has a history of violence.

The stabbing, she added, came two weeks after Dignum had been released from prison.

The stabbing victim had also been previously convicted, Phillips said, and was "not excited" about participating if the case went to trial.

The state had been prepared to take the case to trial even without the victim's cooperation, Phillips added.

Dignum said he was ready to take responsibility for the crime and said he hoped to turn his life around in prison.

"This is it," Dignum told the judge.

"I don't have any more chances left. And I know that," he said.

Dignum was facing a standard sentencing range of 43 to 57 months. The maximum sentence for second-degree assault is 10 years in prison.

In addition to his sentence of 57 months, Dignum's prison term will be followed by 18 months of community custody.

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