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January 16, 2015 at 1:32 PM

Trial to begin Tuesday for defendant in Carnation slayings

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Joseph McEnroe

Opening statements in the death-penalty trial of Joseph McEnroe will be Tuesday after the state Supreme Court on Friday denied a defense request to postpone the trial until at least early February.

McEnroe’s defense team had sought to delay the trial until the high court decides Feb. 3 whether to grant discretionary review of the trial judge’s decision not to allow McEnroe to change his not-guilty plea to not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

Last week, the Supreme Court commissioner granted a one-week stay of the proceedings, delaying opening statements. McEnroe’s trial was supposed to start Jan. 12.

It’s been more than seven years since McEnroe and his former girlfriend, Michele Anderson, were each charged with six counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the Christmas Eve 2007 shooting deaths of Anderson’s parents, brother, sister-in-law, 5-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew at the parents’ home near Carnation.

Now, McEnroe’s trial is to begin on the same day opening statements will be presented to a 16-member jury in the death-penalty case against Christopher Monfort, who is accused of fatally shooting Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton on Halloween 2009. Monfort, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, is also charged with first-degree arson and three counts of first-degree attempted murder, with the latter charges all accusing him of trying to kill other Seattle cops.

In McEnroe’s case, a 16-member King County jury was selected on Dec. 19. The same day, McEnroe’s defense team filed a notice of discretionary review, seeking the Supreme Court’s review of an Oct. 31 ruling by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell that denied a defense motion to allow McEnroe to change his not-guilty plea to not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Ramsdell had previously denied similar motions to allow McEnroe to change his plea, ruling that there wasn’t a sufficient basis to allow it and that the defense had waited too long to do so.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court commissioner heard oral arguments on whether to postpone the trial until at least Feb. 3, when the court is expected to decide whether to grant or deny discretionary review on the plea issue. But the defense team — comprised of attorneys Katie Ross, Leo Hamaji and Bill Prestia — will have 30 days to file a motion seeking to modify the high court’s ruling.

The ruling notes that under state law, the defense must provide written notice to the state that it intends to pursue an insanity defense at arraignment or within 10 days after arraignment — or at a later time if the trial court determines there is good cause to permit it. McEnroe was arraigned on Jan. 10, 2008, but the defense didn’t seek to change his plea until Oct. 14, 2014 — more than six years after arraignment.

“No explanation has been provided by Mr. McEnroe as to why a stay pending this court’s decision on whether to grant review is needed to insure effective and equitable review or to preserve the fruits of a successful appeal,” reads a letter sent to the parties outlining the commissioner’s ruling. “And there are arguments on both sides which course of action will best conserve judicial resources, with no reason given as to why this court is in a better position than the trial court to weigh this factor.”

The letter continues: “In the face of competing considerations, the trial court is in a better position to determine whether trial should proceed and to consider the effects if this court were to grant review after trial has started. If review is accepted, this court would maintain its ability to effectively review the issues and provide relief if warranted, whether or not trial proceeds. Further stay of the trial proceeding by this court is not warranted.”

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Carnation homicides, death penalty, King County Superior C ourt

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