The criminal defense lawyers for Michelle Anderson feel like they have won since she will not face the death penalty. Pam Mantle sat through an exhausting and emotionally draining death-penalty trial for the man who killed her daughter, two young grandchildren and three others more than seven years ago. She didn’t want to endure a second.
For her, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s announcement Wednesday that his office was no longer seeking the death penalty against the second defendant, Michele Anderson, was a relief.
“It’s been devastating for all of our friends and family,” said Mantle. “We’re all just worn out from the whole thing. It’s almost eight years.“
King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
Anderson, 36, is accused of joining her then-boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe, in the brutal killing of six members of her family on Christmas Eve 2007 in rural Carnation. McEnroe was convicted of participating in the killings and sentenced in May to life in prison without the possibility of parole after the jury could not agree on the death penalty.
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Satterberg said he initially sought the death penalty against Anderson because the deaths met the criteria for seeking capital punishment, saying it was “one of the worse crimes we’ve ever had in King County.” But he noted that McEnroe was sentenced by a jury to life even though he admitted to shooting five of the six victims.
Satterberg said the decision was not contingent on any plea deal with Anderson’s defense.
“To proceed with the death penalty against defendant Anderson, in light of the sentence imposed in defendant McEnroe, would not be in the interest of justice,” Satterberg said during a news conference Wednesday morning.
Colleen O’Connor, a member of Anderson’s defense team, said “we appreciate the prosecutor’s thoughtful consideration of Ms. Anderson’s case and we applaud his decision.” O’Connor, who met with Satterberg on Tuesday, said it’s too early to comment on whether a plea agreement could be possible.
She said the defense team asked Satterberg to consider mitigating factors, including Anderson’s mental illness, and the defense argument that McEnroe was more culpable for the homicides.
Anderson’s mental competency has been called into question repeatedly since her arrest and she has spent time at Western State Hospital in the more than seven years she has been behind bars. But, on Wednesday, Satterberg said his decision was solely based on the jury decision in McEnroe’s case.
Though the death penalty is off the table for Anderson, she could still face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The news comes after two separate King County Superior Court juries declined to send convicted cop killer Christopher Monfort and McEnroe to death row.
Anderson is charged with six counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of three generations of her family as they gathered for a holiday celebration at her parents’ home. Killed were her parents, Wayne Anderson, 60, and Judy Anderson, 61; her brother, Scott Anderson, and his wife, Erica Anderson, both 32; and the younger couple’s children, 5-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Nathan.
Erica Anderson was Mantle’s daughter and Olivia and Nathan were her grandchildren.
In a 2008 jailhouse interview with The Seattle Times, Michelle Anderson said she committed the killings and deserved to die.
McEnroe, 36, told jurors during his trial earlier this year that Anderson coerced him into killing her family. He said Anderson believed her family had abused her and owed her money.
“I did not do this because I wanted to. I did this because I was trying to protect Michele,” McEnroe testified during the trial.
McEnroe told jurors Anderson killed her brother while he killed the others.
By pursuing the death penalty for Anderson, McEnroe and Monfort, King County spent more than $15 million for their public-paid defense. The total cost for the defense of Anderson alone is close to $5 million.
The prosecution cost in the Monfort case was $1.09 million through June, according to the prosecutor’s office. The cost to prosecute McEnroe and Anderson was about $1.2 million through the end of May, the office said.
“The costs are outside my control. Our costs are fixed. Our attorneys who handle these cases also have many other cases that they’re handling, unlike the defense side, which is funded entirely to do a single case for as long as a case shall live,” Satterberg said. “The numbers certainly get out of whack, but that’s nothing I have any control over.”
The last person condemned to death in King County was Conner Schierman, who was convicted in 2010 of killing a Kirkland family of four in July 2006.
A recent Seattle University study into the costs of the death penalty in Washington state found a more than $1 million price break in cases where capital punishment is not sought.
In February 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that no one would be executed while he’s in office. However, he did not commute the sentences of inmates on death row; future governors can reinstate the death penalty in those cases. There are nine men on Washington’s death row.
Several prominent criminal-justice experts in Washington said Wednesday the recent outcomes in King County’s three capital cases signify changing social attitudes about capital punishment.
“I see these three King County cases as very significant,” said Jeffery Robinson, a Seattle criminal defense attorney who was recently named director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Justice in New York. “These are an expression of where society is going, and I would hope they have a major impact on the way the King County Prosecutor’s Office evaluates its cases.”