A King County judge today ruled the state cannot seek the death penalty against the two people accused of killing a family of six in Carnation on Christmas Eve 2007.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled that the King County Prosecutor’s Office erred in considering the strength of its evidence in deciding to seek the death penalty against Michele Anderson and Joseph McEnroe.
In a 13-page order, Ramsdell wrote that considering the strength of the evidence used to prove guilt cannot be applied to the decision to seek the death penalty because it violates equal protection under the law. Using the strength of evidence can vary from case to case, the judge found, leading to disparate results.
The Prosecutor’s Office issued the following statement in response to the ruling:
“We are deeply sympathetic to the families that have waited more than five years for this case to go to trial. We will appeal today’s decision to remove the death penalty in this case. We believe it is wrong. We will appeal on behalf of the six lives lost in this crime and because of the potential impact on all aggravated murder cases throughout the state – past, present and future.”
The Prosecutor’s Office said it is still reviewing the decision and will not have further comment tonight.
Anderson and her former boyfriend McEnroe are accused of killing Anderson’s parents, her brother and sister-in-law and her young niece and nephew at her parents’ home during a Christmas Eve gathering at her parents’ home. Prosecutors contend the defendants, who lived in a trailer on the elder Andersons’ wooded Carnation-area property, planned the shootings because Michele Anderson felt slighted by her parents and was upset they wanted her to pay rent.
McEnroe and Anderson are each charged with six counts of aggravated murder for the deaths of Wayne Anderson, 60, and his wife, Judith, 61; Michele Anderson’s brother, Scott, his wife, Erica, both 32, and the couple’s two children, Olivia, 5, and Nathan, 3.
Pam Mantle, mother of Erica Anderson and grandmother of the two youngest victims, was in court with her family when the judge issued the ruling.
“We were just blindsided,” she said. “We’re just regrouping.”
In 2008, Anderson told The Seattle Times in a jailhouse interview that she committed the killings and wanted to die.
Kathryn Ross, who is part of the three-lawyer team representing McEnroe, has repeatedly said he is willing to plead guilty to the murders in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table. McEnroe’s trial was expected to begin in March.
The county has spent more than $5.1 million to defend McEnroe and Anderson and another $725,000 to prosecute the pair, according to the Office of Public Defense and the prosecutor’s office. Total cost of McEnroe’s defense is at $2.4 million.
By comparison, more than $2.5 million in has been spent on the defense of Christopher Monfort, who is facing a potential death penalty, according to the Office of Public Defense. Monfort is accused of ambushing two Seattle police officers, killing one, on Halloween night 2009. His trial could begin as early as this fall.
The amount spent on the Carnation case is the largest in prepping for a potential death-penalty case since the prosecution of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, according to prosecutors. Between 2001, when Ridgway was identified as a suspect in the serial killings, and 2003, when he pleaded guilty to dozens of counts of aggravated murder, the county spent nearly $12 million on the extensive investigation, as well as prosecution and defense, county officials said.