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The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

September 5, 2014 at 1:44 PM

Carnation defendant competency ruling not expected for 2 weeks

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Michele Anderson, left, and her defense attorney, Colleen O’Connor, listen to King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell in court Wednesday morning. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

What was supposed to be a two-day hearing to determine if Michele Anderson is competent to stand trial and potentially face the death penalty in the alleged killings of six family members in 2007 has morphed into a multi-day affair, with a ruling from the trial judge not expected for at least two weeks.

Though Anderson has twice been found competent to stand trial following psychological evaluations in 2008 and 2011, her defense team has again challenged her competency and ability to rationally aid and assist in her defense, court records show. She has repeatedly refused to meet with her attorneys, Colleen O’Connor and David Sorenson, and when she does, she refuses to engage with them in discussions about her case and trial strategy, according to a defense motion filed in the case.

“Given the pattern and practice, we are always falling behind and we can’t do this forever,” King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell said Thursday, apparently frustrated by the additional time needed to hear testimony from two psychologists, one retained by the defense and the other by the state.

Dr. Mark Cunningham, a Texas psychologist hired by the defense, testified all day Thursday and is to resume Tuesday with cross-examination. The state’s expert, Dr. Brian Judd of Olympia, may not be available to give his testimony until the week of Sept. 15, the judge was told.

On Wednesday, Ramsdell denied defense motions to close the courtroom and seal Anderson’s most recent competency evaluations. After a lengthy recess to allow the state and defense time to hammer out proposed redactions, Ramsdell redacted about 12 lines from Cunningham’s 45-page report that referenced “confessional statements” made by Anderson, far fewer than had been requested by the defense.

Cunningham’s report hasn’t been entered into the court record as an exhibit yet, so is not available to the public or media.

Also Thursday, Anderson submitted a handwritten motion to the court, asking that she be appointed new attorneys because of a “conflict of interest,” and her lawyers’ “personally biased views” that she claims led to their failure to guarantee the “accuracy of material” in her case.

Her motion, which Ramsdell has not ruled on, also claims she has the right to file a civil suit against Cunningham for “misconduct.”

Ramsdell and King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole are currently preparing for trial in the capital case against Anderson’s co-defendant and former boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe, with opening statements expected sometime in October. Anderson and McEnroe are each charged with six counts of aggravated first-degree murder, accused of fatally shooting Anderson’s parents, brother and sister-in-law, and the younger couple’s two children on Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation.

There have been repeated delays in the case, including three separate challenges to the state Supreme Court that all resulted in reversals of decisions made by Ramsdell. Both defense teams have vigorously challenged King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s decision to seek the death penalty through numerous motions and arguments in the nearly seven years since the killings. To date, all have failed to get the death penalty tossed out.

“Once we begin with Mr. McEnroe’s case in earnest, it’s going to be hard to get back to this,” Ramsdell said of Anderson’s competency hearing. “I know Mr. O’Toole is saddled with some of the same obligations I am.”

But because Anderson will be tried after McEnroe if she’s found competent, “there’s not an urgency to get this resolved, but I think we need to get on with this,” the judge said Thursday.

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Carnation slayings, death penalty, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office

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