Minutes after being found guilty of causing the death of his fiancee, an Astoria man, handcuffed, wearing a jail jump suit, ordered lunch from McDonalds.

Christopher Scott Fitzhugh, 39, had asked visiting Marion County Judge Thomas Hart if he’d be able to get lunch that afternoon.

The judge said maybe.

Fitzhugh, who had faced a charge of aggravated murder in the death of Evelyn Marie Decker, held up his end of a settlement agreement, pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree assault Tuesday morning.

Judge Hart also found him guilty of murder by abuse. The state dropped the other charges against him.

Fitzhugh can appeal the murder by abuse charge. However, win or lose the appeal, Fitzhugh will still serve prison time under the conditions of the settlement agreement: 30 years if he loses, at least 23½ years if he wins.

“May I speak, your Honor?” Fitzhugh asked Hart as the hearing ended, triggering a flurry of lawyerly activity around him. His three attorneys advised him to wait to make a statement until formal sentencing Sept.13.

But Fitzhugh said he wanted to apologize to Decker’s family, to his own family, to the court and to the police investigators.

“I didn’t mean to take her life,” he said. “I didn’t mean to cause her life to end, but undoubtedly I did …”

Decker died Aug. 1, 2010.

A cousin who saw her at the hospital that day barely recognized her. He said he had never seen anyone so battered.

According to an autopsy conducted by the State Medical Examiner’s office, bruises covered Decker. The only part of her body not bruised was her abdomen as if she had tried to protect herself by curling into the fetal position.

A bruise on her back was so new it wasn’t noted at the time of her death and was only discovered at the autopsy.

She had 14 fractured ribs, all in various stages of healing. Some of the breaks hadn’t even begun to heal.

She also had a collapsed lung and severe brain swelling.

The state believes Fitzhugh beat Decker twice in the days before her death: once on July 25 and again possibly on July 29. After the second beating, she was bed-ridden and “totally dependent on (Fitzhugh),” said Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis.

Proving that Decker was dependent prior to her death is important in establishing the murder by abuse charge, Marquis said. Judge Hart accepted the state’s argument, but Fitzhugh could challenge this claim of dependency in an appeal.

A neighbor who saw Decker July 26 after Fitzhugh beat her July 25 said that if she had not known Decker, she couldn’t have told what race she was. Decker’s face was black with bruises and her swollen nose stretched out almost to the corners of her eyes.

She could barely talk through her cut lips.

“Everything’s OK,” she had told the neighbor.

After July 26, several people saw Fitzhugh and Decker, but other than a few brief interactions in the following days, no one saw Decker alive again, Marquis said.

The last 48 hours of Decker’s life were likely painful, according to the state. She was immobile, unable to eat or drink and either couldn’t take medicine or was denied access to it. She couldn’t clean herself, care for herself or call for help, Marquis said.

Fitzhugh did not take her to the hospital and stopped Decker from making a 911 call on July 25. He told the dispatcher who answered that there was no emergency.

Fitzhugh assaulted Decker, said Judge Hart, and caused her to be totally dependent on him and in the “circumstances surrounding all of it, manifested extreme indifference to the value of human life even if you didn’t want her to die.” 

For Decker’s family, the settlement agreement is welcomed news.

“As a family, this past year has been hard,” said sister-in-law Dana Klitzke, of Reno, Nev.

First came the news of Decker’s death, Fitzhugh’s arrest, the increasingly severe charges against him: assault, then murder, then aggravated murder, which can carry the death penalty in Oregon.

Always a close family, they were preparing themselves for another holiday season without Decker and a murder trial looming in February 2012.

But instead, there was a phone call and the news that a settlement hearing had been scheduled.

Then another call, this time on Tuesday afternoon: It was all over.

“We are very, very pleased,” Klitzke said, speaking for the family, many of whom live in Nevada. “… Evelyn Marie Decker got justice and the man who murdered her got his due. … He took her away from us.”

On behalf of the family, she thanked the investigators, the district attorney’s office, the victims’ advocates and the Clatsop County Women’s Resource Center for their work, and the community for its support.

In Clatsop County, Decker’s death shook the community and acted as a wake-up call for a number of women in abusive relationships, according to the Women’s Resource Center staff. Decker’s family was encouraged when they heard this, Klitzke said.

“If we save one person from ever having to go through what Evelyn did, then her death wasn’t in vain. If it was a wake-up call. If one woman turns and runs in the opposite direction.”

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