Despite her wish, the woman charged with killing six family members Christmas Eve can't plead guilty until prosecutors decide whether to seek the death penalty.
Michele Anderson says she is sorry for killing six members of her family on Christmas Eve and wants to be punished in the most severe way possible — by execution.
In a jailhouse interview, Anderson, 29, said Friday that years of physical and emotional abuse led her to “snap” just before she barged into her parents’ home near Carnation along with her boyfriend Joseph McEnroe and fatally shot her family, including two young children.
Through tears, Anderson, dressed in a white “ultra security” inmate uniform, said she felt “badly,” but she also offered her explanation for the killings. She cried through much of the interview.
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“I don’t care what people say about violence and morality — everyone has a breaking point,” said Anderson, who said she grew up being told she should never have been born. “I told them to stop or I would snap, and they knew what I meant. They just pushed me too far. I just don’t know why they had to push me so hard.”
Anderson said she has been trying to plead guilty to six counts of aggravated first-degree murder for months. However, a requirement in state law makes it impossible for her to do so because the King County prosecuting attorney is still deciding whether to seek the death penalty against her and McEnroe.
Anderson said she wants desperately to circumvent that special-sentencing process and admit in court to the slayings. Death, she said, is the only fair punishment.
“I’m a different kind of person,” Anderson said. “Life in prison is not enough punishment for me. I want the most severe punishment, which would be the death penalty. I think if I kill a bunch of people, I’m not sure I deserve to live … I want to waive my trial.”
Her attorneys, Cindy Arends and Kevin Dolan, could not speak on the record, citing attorney-client confidentiality. Dan Donohoe, spokesman for Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, said his office wasn’t commenting on Anderson’s public statements, saying simply that the case was “on track.”
Satterberg has until Aug. 4 to decide whether to seek the death penalty for Anderson and McEnroe. A defendant’s mental-health history factors largely into that decision, leading defense attorneys to prepare and submit “mitigation packets” containing evidence that might persuade the prosecutor not to pursue a death sentence.
In May, a King County judge ordered Anderson to undergo a competency evaluation. She was deemed competent to stand trial, and her defense team must submit its mitigation packet by July 10.
Meanwhile, the defense attorneys have submitted motions to withdraw as counsel, which will be addressed at a hearing scheduled for July 14.
The conflict is not uncommon. In aggravated-murder cases where the accused wants to plead guilty, defendants — to whom state law grants the right to control the “goals” of their own litigation — and defenders — for whom a major goal is to spare a client’s life — often butt heads.
“There are no mitigating factors,” Anderson said. “I’ve been evaluated by three doctors, and I’ve been found competent. My lawyers are trying to force me into a life sentence because they’re opposed to that.”
However, state law dictates: “Except with the consent of the prosecuting attorney, during the period in which the prosecuting attorney may file the notice of special sentencing proceeding, the defendant may not tender a plea of guilty… “
It’s not unusual for an aggravated-murder defendant to try to spontaneously plead guilty without a prearranged deal from prosecutors.
Naveed Haq, accused of killing one woman and wounding five others in a shooting spree at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle in 2006, attempted to plead guilty before then-Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng decided not to seek the death penalty against him. He quickly changed his plea to not guilty after consulting with his lawyers.
Many of Washington’s recently executed inmates were so-called “volunteers.”
Westley Allan Dodd, who killed three children and was executed in 1993, said he wanted to die because he knew he would kill again.
Jeremy Sagastegui, who killed two women and a 3-year-old boy, was executed in 1998 after acting as his own attorney and fighting against his mother’s attempts to derail a death sentence.
James Elledge, a church janitor, was executed in 2001 for luring a woman to the Edmonds church, tying her up and stabbing her. He pleaded guilty and, calling himself “evil,” requested to die.
Anderson provided few details Friday about what happened at her parents’ rural home on the night she and McEnroe armed themselves with handguns, walked up the hill from their mobile home on the property and burst in on her family while they were wrapping presents before dinner.
According to the police report, Anderson shot her father, Wayne Anderson, 60, with a 9 mm handgun and then McEnroe shot him with a .357-caliber Magnum handgun. McEnroe then shot Judith Anderson, 61, twice, according to the documents.
The suspects dragged the bodies to a backyard shed to hide them, the report states. Soon after, Michele Anderson’s brother, Scott, 32, arrived with his wife, Erica, 32, and their children, Olivia, 5, and Nathan, 3. McEnroe shot the couple, then shot both children in the head, according to the report.
Police said the slayings apparently stemmed, in part, from a dispute Michele Anderson was having with her brother over money. According to court documents, Anderson told police she was tired “of everybody stepping on her,” and she had decided if her family did not start showing her respect by Dec. 24, she would kill them.
Friday, Anderson said the money dispute was just a “symptom,” and that her rage grew steadily over years of family conflict. “I know I reacted wrong,” she said. “I wish I could just redo the last 10 years of my life.”
But Anderson’s description of her family is at odds with what friends and relatives have said.
On Friday, 24-year-old Ben Anderson, Michele Anderson’s nephew, said he’d never seen anything that would bolster his aunt’s claims that she long suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of her parents and brother. He declined to speak in detail about the slayings or his family.
Immediately after the slayings, several friends of the Anderson family described the victims as close-knit and said they had tried over the years to help Michele.
Former neighbors of Michele Anderson and McEnroe described them as misfits who kept to themselves. One neighbor said Anderson often referred to herself as the “black sheep” of her family, but that Anderson’s mother came about once a month bearing food and other items.
Michele Anderson also expressed regret toward McEnroe, whom she says she’s been trying to contact regarding their defense. “I don’t want to say who did what. We both shot people. But this is all my fault — I dragged him into it.”
McEnroe spoke with a reporter four days after the slayings, which he refused to discuss. But he did express remorse for the deaths. “I’m sorry that they’re gone,” he said at the time. “They were my family, too, you know?”
Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times news researchers David Turim and Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.