The state Supreme Court has ruled that King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg did not err when he decided to seek the death penalty against a former couple in connection with the Christmas Eve 2007 slayings of six people in Carnation.
Justices, in their ruling, ordered the trials of Michele Anderson and Joseph McEnroe to proceed. If convicted in King County Superior Court, the two could be sentenced to death.
“The King County prosecuting attorney followed the statutory requirements when he considered whether mitigating circumstances merited leniency and when he determined that they did not,” according to the unanimous ruling authored by Justice Charles Wiggins. “… we reverse the trial court and remand this matter with instructions to reinstate the notices of special sentencing proceeding so that the capital prosecutions against McEnroe and Anderson may finally proceed to trial.”
In January, King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled that prosecutors could not seek the death penalty in the slayings of six members of Anderson’s family: her parents, brother, sister-in-law and the younger couple’s two preschool-aged children. Ramsdell found that Satterberg erroneously considered the strength of the state’s evidence against McEnroe and Anderson in deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
Ramsdell said that prosecutors should only have weighed whether mitigating circumstances existed in the decision to seek the death penalty.
Satterberg’s office then asked the Supreme Court to reverse Ramsdell’s decision, reinstate the death-penalty notice and remand the case to Superior Court for trial.
In a statement released today, Satterberg’s office said:
“We are pleased that the Washington State Supreme Court expeditiously considered our appeal and has permitted this case to proceed to trial with all sentencing options available under State law. The Court ruled that prosecutors may consider the strength of the case in determining whether to file a notice of special sentencing proceeding seeking the death penalty.”
Pam Mantle, whose grandchildren, son-in-law and daughter, Erica Anderson, were killed, said she is pleased with the Supreme Court ruling. “We want the death penalty, it is what is fair and just considering they laid in wait and massacred [the victims],” Mantle said this morning.
Defense lawyers for McEnroe and Anderson could not be immediately reached.
During oral arguments before the high court in May, Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Whisman argued that Ramsdell had overstepped his bounds. Whisman argued that under the state’s death-penalty statute, “discretion is placed with the prosecutor” to decide whether to seek capital punishment.
“The court ruled the prosecutor can’t consider the strength of the evidence … but he wasn’t clear on what he meant by ‘strength of the evidence,’ ” Whisman argued. He said that Ramsdell did not have access to mitigation information on both defendants that was submitted by their defense attorneys, and the judge had previously denied a defense motion to compel Satterberg to spell out “which factors in the mitigation package he found persuasive and which ones” he didn’t.
But defense attorney Kathryn Ross, who represented Anderson and her former boyfriend, McEnroe, before the Supreme Court, said Satterberg’s decision to seek the death penalty was based only on the evidence and not on the mitigation evidence submitted by the defense. Ross argued that the state’s death-penalty statute is unique in that prosecutors are directed to impose it only if there isn’t sufficient evidence of mitigating factors to merit leniency.
Under state law, mitigating factors in potential death-penalty cases can include evidence of an extreme mental disturbance or impairment. Leniency also can be merited if a suspect acted under duress or domination of another person.
Three weeks after Ramsdell ruled against the death penalty in the Carnation slayings, King County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler ruled Satterberg abused his discretion by relying on a flawed investigation into mitigating factors that could have merited leniency for accused cop-killer Christopher Monfort.
Kessler tossed the death penalty in the case even though Monfort’s defense team hadn’t provided any mitigation evidence to the state for more than three years after Monfort was charged in the fatal shooting of Seattle police Officer Tim Brenton on Halloween 2009.