The state Supreme Court unanimously reversed a King County Superior Court judge’s ruling that prosecutors had incorrectly sought the death penalty when they charged two former Carnation-area residents with killing a family on Christmas Eve 2007.
In 1 1/2-page order, the court reversed Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell’s Jan. 31 ruling in the cases of defendants Michele Anderson and Joseph McEnroe that had taken the death penalty off the table.
In his ruling, Ramsdell agreed with the defense that the absence of sufficient mitigating circumstances to warrant a life sentence instead of death is a “fact” or element of the crime that must be proved to a jury. But he said tossing out the death penalty was premature and conceded he didn’t know how to proceed, prompting the state to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter.
King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Whisman had argued last month that prosecutors have charged both McEnroe and Anderson with six counts of first-degree murder, as well as two aggravators: more than two people were killed as part of a common scheme or plan and two of the victims were killed to eliminate witnesses. Those charges made them “eligible” for the death penalty, and were followed up with a special notice advising them that Prosecutor Dan Satterberg would be seeking the death penalty, Whisman said.
But it will be up to a jury to decide what penalty McEnroe and Anderson face.
Justice Barbara Madsen, in this morning’s ruling, acknowledged that the Supreme Court’s explanations were brief. She wrote that “the Court has determined that the case should be decided expeditiously, by this order, with explanatory opinions to be filed in due course.”
In addition, the Supreme Court denied the request by the prosecution to remove Ramsdell from the case.
Prosecutors had asked justices last month to replace Ramsdell on the case. Jim Wisman told the court they have been reluctant to criticize him but are troubled by the “overall management” and slow pace of litigation, as well as “the perception of justice and timely justice in this case.”
Anderson and McEnroe, who are both 35, are accused of fatally shooting Anderson’s family in her parents’ Carnation-area home on Dec. 24, 2007. Killed were her parents, Wayne and Judy Anderson; her brother and his wife, Scott and Erica Anderson; and that couple’s children, 5-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Nathan.
The slayings were motivated by money, family strife and a concern over leaving behind witnesses, according to sheriff’s investigators.