Legal costs near $7 million for defendants in 2007 Carnation slayings
As Michele Anderson and Joseph McEnroe await trials that could result in the death penalty, the cost of their prosecution and defense continues to mount, a figure now approaching $7 million.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Michele Anderson and Joseph McEnroe have been residents of King County Jail for nearly six years — far longer than any other inmate.
As the one-time couple await their respective trials that could result in the death penalty, the cost of their prosecution and defense continues to mount, a figure now approaching a combined $7 million.
And with no firm trial date in sight for either defendant, the expense of defending and prosecuting the pair in connection with the slayings of six members of Anderson’s family on Christmas Eve 2007 is the highest in preparing for a potential death-penalty case since the $12 million cost of investigating and prosecuting Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, the most expensive in county history.
The amount, even when factoring in two defendants, already exceeds the average price of an individual death-penalty case — from trial to execution — of $3 million, as determined by a 2008 study by the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg declined to talk about the case. In past interviews, he has defended the county’s filing of death-penalty cases despite the high cost.
Satterberg attributes much of the increase to what he calls an “industry” that has been created by death-penalty attorneys, whom he has blamed for “running up the bill.”
“It is the law of our state and a punishment we reserve for the worst of the worst offenders,” he has said of the death penalty.
Anderson and McEnroe are accused of fatally shooting Anderson’s family in her parents’ Carnation-area home on Dec. 24, 2007. Killed were her parents, Wayne and Judy Anderson; her brother and his wife, Scott and Erica Anderson; and that couple’s children, 5-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Nathan.
The slayings were motivated by money, family strife and a concern over leaving behind witnesses, according to sheriff’s investigators.
In a 2008 jailhouse interview, Michele Anderson told The Seattle Times she had committed the murders and wanted to die.
“I want the most severe punishment, which would be the death penalty,” she said at the time. “I think if I kill a bunch of people, I’m not sure I deserve to live ... I want to waive my trial.”
She has since pleaded not guilty, as has McEnroe.
“The outer limits”
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., notes that defending and prosecuting a capital case is extraordinarily expensive, but he believes the amount already spent in Anderson”s and McEnroe’s cases is extreme.
“This is on the outer limits,” said Dieter, whose organization tracks death-penalty statistics and opposes capital punishment.
The bulk of the cost has come from defending Anderson, 35, and McEnroe, 34, who are represented by public defenders. More than $3 million has been spent defending Anderson, while more than $2.8 million has been spent defending her one-time boyfriend.
Records detailing how the money has been spent are sealed to protect the defendants’ trial strategy from the prosecution, said Colleen O’Connor, who is leading Anderson’s defense.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office has spent just over $800,000 on the Carnation case. A spokesman said the costs include attorney and staff salaries, as well as expert review.
That amount does not include the cost of the investigation by the King County Sheriff’s Office, nor the cost of housing Anderson and McEnroe in jail as they await trial.
Cmdr. William Hayes of the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention estimates the cost of housing Anderson and McEnroe in the ultra-security section of the Seattle jail thus far is about $588,000.
“In addition, each of them have had some level of additional services such as psychiatric care, medical care and transportation services above the average level provided to inmates,” Hayes wrote in an email Thursday.
By comparison, King County’s last death-penalty defendant, Conner Schierman, was convicted in 2010 of killing four Kirkland neighbors in July 2006, at a cost of about $2.4 million.
Long string of delays
Delays have been constant in the Carnation case, stemming from defense motions over the sealing of records, changes of attorneys on all sides and questions about Anderson’s mental competency.
The case hit a major delay in January when Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled that prosecutors could not seek the death penalty because Satterberg erroneously considered the strength of the state’s evidence in deciding in favor of capital punishment.
Ramsdell said prosecutors should only have weighed whether mitigating circumstances existed in the decision to seek the death penalty.
However, earlier this month the state Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, ruling it was “of no consequence” that Satterberg weighed the strength of the case in making his decision.
This week, defense lawyers filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking it to reconsider its unanimous decision.
During a hearing Thursday in King County Superior Court, a defense lawyer for McEnroe said it was too soon to set a trial date and asked for a delay.
Ramsdell denied the request and set McEnroe’s trial tentatively to begin in January. Anderson will be tried after McEnroe, although a date has not been set.
At the same hearing, Anderson’s lawyer, O’Connor, said Anderson is mentally ill. But since her arrest, she has been evaluated by mental-health experts and deemed competent to stand trial.
Because of what’s at stake in a capital case, the state requires at least two defense lawyers on a death-penalty case and for them to have specialty training. Anderson has two lawyers defending her and McEnroe has three.
David Chapman, who heads the King County Office of Public Defense, said his office closely reviews spending requests by the defense, mostly out of concern that any requests he might deny could result in a verdict reversal years from now.
“It conjures us to err on the side of being very aware that it [the case] is going to be reviewed and will be reviewed for many, many years by lots of eyes. There have been cases that have resulted in retrial, and the costs of that have been very, very scary,” Chapman said.
Chapman said his office has managed to budget for Anderson’s and McEnroe’s cases without having to go to the Metropolitan King County Council for additional funds. When defending Ridgway against 48 counts of aggravated murder and the death penalty, the Office of Public Defense had to seek extra funds, he said.
Between 2001, when Ridgway was identified as a suspect in the Green River serial killings, and 2003, when he pleaded guilty to dozens of counts of aggravated murder, the county spent nearly $12 million on the extensive investigation, as well as prosecution and defense, county officials said.
Chapman said his projected $48 million public-defense budget for 2014 has factored in Anderson’s and McEnroe’s death-penalty trials.
Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center, agrees that the requirements for legal counsel and evidence in capital cases are tremendous because of fear of verdict reversal and appeals judges ordering retrials.
He said that because of the number of cases overturned on the state or federal appellate level in recent decades, trial-court judges now are willing to hear arguments from the defense that they might not have in the past.
“The fact is that some of these motions would be dispensed with quickly, but now they have some legs,” Dieter said. “The money that is involved in death-penalty cases is all about legal time and expert time.”
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story, which includes information from Times archives.