A two-day hearing is under way in King County Superior Court to determine if Michele Anderson is mentally competent to stand trial, and potentially face the death penalty, for allegedly killing six members of her family on Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation.
Juror summonses have already been mailed out in the case of Anderson’s co-defendant, former boyfriend Joe McEnroe, who is also charged with six counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Pretrial motions in the capital case against McEnroe are to begin later this month, with opening statements expected sometime in October.
Should Anderson be found competent, she will be tried after McEnroe.
Anderson’s attorneys, Colleen O’Connor and David Sorenson, argued Wednesday morning that the courtroom should be closed to the public during testimony by two psychologists — one hired by the defense and the other by the state — and that the doctors’ competency evaluations be sealed. Anderson’s right to counsel and a fair trial would be violated if certain information contained in the competency evaluations were to be made public, O’Connor said.
King County prosecutors, McEnroe’s defense team and The Seattle Times objected to the closure of the courtroom and the sealing of the reports.
Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell denied both motions, saying Anderson’s defense attorneys did not provide specific, compelling reasons to do so. He acknowledged that balancing Anderson’s rights with the public’s right to open courts and interest in seeing that only competent people stand trial is “a minefield.”
“The remedy will be reversal (on appeal) if we get it wrong,” Ramsdell said.
Whereas competency evaluations were routinely sealed in the past, that all changed last year when the state Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the public release of a redacted psychological evaluation that found Dr. Louis Chen competent to stand trail on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the August 2011 deaths of his partner and their young son in Seattle.
Though Ramsdell denied a blanket sealing order, he said he would entertain limited redactions to the psychiatrists’ reports provided the attorneys cited specific legal authority for each one.
Ramsdell granted the state and Anderson’s defense team a 30-minute recess to see if the two sides could agree on redactions to Anderson’s competency evaluations. When court resumed Wednesday morning, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole told the judge the two sides weren’t in agreement and asked for the rest of the morning to consult with prosecutors in his office’s appellate unit.
The hearing was to resume at 1:30 p.m.
Dr. Mark Cunningham, a psychiatrist retained by the defense, and Dr. Brian Judd, a state-retained psychiatrist, are to testify Wednesday and Thursday about the conclusions they reached on the issue of Anderson’s competency to stand trial.
According to court documents, Anderson repeatedly refused to meet with Cunningham, citing “a conflict of interest.”
So far, it’s unclear if she later agreed to be evaluated by Cunningham or if he based his report on Judd’s evaluation of Anderson, which the judge previously ruled could be video-recorded and viewed by the defense psychiatrist.
Anderson, who spent several months at Western State Hospital earlier this year, has undergone at least two prior evaluations that found her competent to stand trial.