Today I am announcing my decision to withdraw the notice of intent to seek the death penalty in the case of State v. Michele Anderson. Ms. Anderson is charged with six counts of aggravated murder in the first degree for the mass slaying of six members of her family on Christmas Eve 2007.
I initially filed the notice to seek the death penalty because the case met the legal standard, and, in my opinion, the premeditated murder of 6 people, including two small children, qualifies as one of the worst crimes that we have experienced in King County. I thought the jury in each co-defendant’s trial should have the option to consider the state’s ultimate punishment.
The jury in the trial of Michele Anderson’s accomplice, Joseph McEnroe, heard all of the evidence in the case and found him guilty.
That evidence made it clear that McEnroe fired the fatal shot in five of the six murders:
McEnroe fatally shot Wayne Anderson and Judy Anderson in their home as they prepared for the holiday. He then took the lead in hiding their bodies and set the trap for the next victims.
When Scott and Erica Anderson arrived to celebrate Christmas Eve an hour later, McEnroe killed Erica Anderson with multiple gunshots. He then attempted to shoot Scott, who had also been shot by Michele.
It was McEnroe who made the decision to kill the children, Olivia Anderson, age 5 and Nathan Anderson, age 3. It was McEnroe who turned the gun on the children, killing them at close range.
In May, the jury decided what punishment McEnroe should receive for his crimes. Because the jury was unable to unanimously agree that the death penalty was warranted, the result for him is a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole -- the only other possible penalty.
Today, we are left with a situation where, following a trial by an impartial jury, one of the two participants in this horrific crime has received a life sentence for his actions.
My decision today will reconcile the potential outcomes for these two defendants, and remove the death penalty option for the jury in Michele Anderson’s trial.
To proceed with the death penalty against defendant Anderson, in light of the sentence imposed on defendant McEnroe, would not be in the interest of justice.
Although we could still go forward with the death penalty on the table, it is my decision that we should not.
Prosecutors have the responsibility of administering the death penalty law in a way that is fair. This act is consistent with that duty.
We have fought long and hard in court to preserve the option of the death penalty for the McEnroe jury. I measure our success in the fact that the jury did ultimately have this option, even though they could not unanimously agree.
Now, faced with a trial for Ms. Anderson - an accomplice whom we allege is equally culpable for the crimes - we must take the step to equalize the potential punishment she faces.
This is a unilateral action by my office, not dependent upon any action or agreement by defendant Anderson. We have long said that the death penalty is too powerful a tool to be used as a plea bargaining chip, and our action today demonstrates that principle.
We will continue to get ready for trial in defendant Anderson’s case, but it will no longer be a capital case.
The notice of the withdrawal of the death penalty will be presented to the court at 3 p.m. today.