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The state Supreme Court will hear an appeal filed by the King County Prosecutor’s Office after a judge tossed out the death penalty in the case of a former couple accused of killing six people on Christmas Eve 2007.

The high court said it will hear arguments on May 9.

The trials of Joseph McEnroe and Michele Anderson have been on hold since late January, when King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled that prosecutors could not seek the death penalty.

Ramsdell found that Prosecutor Dan Satterberg erroneously considered the strength of the state’s evidence against McEnroe and Anderson in deciding to seek the death penalty. Ramsdell wrote in his 13-page order that prosecutors should have weighed only whether mitigating circumstances existed in the decision to seek the death penalty.

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Satterberg’s office, in its appeal, called Ramsdell’s ruling premature and said it represents a “failure of logic” because it is impossible to uncouple “facts and circumstances” of a crime from “the strength of the evidence.”

Prosecutors aren’t required by law to say what mitigating factors they considered in deciding whether to pursue capital punishment.

Under state law, mitigating factors in potential death-penalty cases can include evidence of an extreme mental disturbance or impairment because of a mental disease or defect; leniency also can be merited if a suspect acted under duress or domination of another person.

Kathryn Ross, one of McEnroe’s defense lawyers, has said she agrees that Satterberg’s appeal should be heard before the Supreme Court.

The trial delay will add to King County’s mounting costs to prosecute and defend the alleged killers, which is approaching $6 million.

McEnroe, 34, was slated to be tried this month.

Anderson, 34, and McEnroe, her former boyfriend, were arrested shortly after six members of Anderson’s family were found slain in her parents’ Carnation-area home. 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.

A King County judge last month threw out the death penalty in the case against accused police killer Christopher Monfort, but ruled that it could proceed as a capital case so as not to delay his trial.

Chief criminal Judge Ronald Kessler ruled that Satterberg abused his discretion by relying on a “flawed, practically useless” investigation into mitigating factors that could have merited leniency for Monfort — a life sentence instead of death. Kessler said Satterberg considered “minimalist mitigation materials” in reaching his decision to seek the death penalty.

Satterberg’s office is also appealing that decision to the state Supreme Court.

Monfort, 42, is charged with aggravated murder in the fatal shooting of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton and attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of Officer Britt Sweeney on Oct. 31, 2009.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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