The Pierce County prosecutor’s office filed first-degree murder charges on Friday, July 23, against a man accused of murdering a security guard in Washington state this month.
Patrick Philip Byrne, a 26-year-old Army Ranger stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was charged in the death of 41-year-old Denise Smith, who was found severely beaten and dead in downtown Tacoma on July 18.
The U.S. Army released a statement on Friday after learning of the charges against Byrne, writing, “The actions described in reports are absolutely appalling. The Tacoma Police Department has the full cooperation of the United States Army Special Operations Command. Our deepest condolences to the families affected by this tragedy.”
Byrne pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and two counts of first-degree kidnapping. His bail was set by Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson at $2 million, the News Tribune reported.
On July 18, Tacoma officers responded to a downtown building where Smith, a security guard, was found bleeding and not breathing by a coworker arriving for her own shift. Smith had only recently started working at the building in the 900 block of A Street and was discovered at around 6:10 a.m.
Detectives said it was clear Smith had been savagely beaten, and she was declared dead at the scene. It was only her fifth shift working at the building.
A 911 call made by a man now known to be Byrne was made from outside the building that same morning. On the call, Byrne said he’d been stabbed and sexually assaulted, although once he was taken to a hospital no stab wounds were found on him and he did not allow hospital staff to conduct a sexual assault examination. Byrne did have a head injury and staff at the hospital believed he was intoxicated.
Officers learned that Byrne had been drinking the night before Smith was found and had gotten into a bar fight with someone before fleeing to the building where Smith was located.
The attack that left Smith “unrecognizable” according to prosecutors, was captured by cameras. Footage shows 6-foot Byrne enter the building and encounter Smith. Smith, who is just 5 feet, grabbed Byrne’s shirt to attempt to keep him from barging past her. Byrne then began to beat Smith for between eight and 10 minutes.
“During that time the defendant repeatedly punched the victim with his fists, and he grabbed her by her braid and ‘dragged her around like a rag doll,’” prosecutors wrote in charging papers. Byrne prevented Smith from escaping multiple times, stabbed her in the face with her keys and choked her until she went limp.
“During the defendant’s lengthy attack on the victim, she repeatedly tried to fight back, and she tried to get away, but the defendant grabbed her each time and prevented her from fleeing,” records say. “He repeatedly overpowered her, assaulted her, and threw her around by her hair braid.”
Byrne then threw furniture in the building and broke a window before leaving, by either jumping or falling from it and landing onto concrete some 14 feet below. Footage shows that he passed out outside of the building for several minutes, then got up and walked away at around 2 a.m. before being taken to a hospital over the alleged stab wounds.
Byrne is being held at Pierce County Jail and told officers he doesn’t remember the attack. The Army is planning to discharge him.