The cost of preparing for the trials of Michele Anderson and Joseph McEnroe for allegedly killing six people on Christmas Eve 2007 has soared to nearly $5 million. The defense said nothing they're doing is "unnecessary."
Nearly 4 ½ years after a family of six was killed in Carnation on Christmas Eve 2007, the cost of preparing for the trials of the two defendants has reached $4.9 million.
Michele Anderson, 33, and Joseph McEnroe, 33, who are accused of gunning down Anderson’s family, are not expected to hear opening statements in their cases until next year. In the meantime, the costs keep mounting as trial preparation continues.
A million-dollar price tag for the prosecution and defense of defendants facing the death penalty isn’t unusual, but the amount spent on the Carnation case is the largest in prepping for a potential death-penalty case since the prosecution of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
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Between 2001, when Ridgway was identified as a suspect in the serial killings, and 2003, when he pleaded guilty to 48 counts of aggravated murder, the county spent nearly $12 million on the extensive investigation, as well as prosecution and defense, county officials said.
According to the King County Office of Public Defense, more than $2.2 million has been spent on the defense of Anderson and more than $2 million has been spent to defend McEnroe. The King County Prosecutor’s Office said it has spent a combined $675,064 to prosecute both cases.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., was surprised at the sum. Dieter said the average cost for trial as well as post-conviction appeals for one death-penalty defendant is $3 million — compared to an average of about $1.1 million for the trial, appeals and incarceration for a murder defendant who is sentenced to life in prison.
“It’s mammoth litigation,” Dieter said. “The courts demand a more thorough investigation into the life history of the defendant. If you don’t do that they’re going to overturn the case [on appeal].”
Dieter added, “It’s death, you can’t scrimp and save.”
With Anderson and McEnroe being tried separately, the amount for each case could top the $3 million figure.
Anderson and McEnroe, her former boyfriend, were arrested after members of her 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.
Kathryn Ross, who is part of the three-lawyer team representing McEnroe, said, “There’s nothing that’s being done [by the defense] that’s unnecessary.”
“A lot more care has to be taken to make sure any decisions in a death-penalty case are accurate. It’s called a higher degree of due process,” she said.
Jury selection for the first Carnation defendant — it’s unclear which one — could begin as early as Sept. 7, but will likely stretch through the end of the year, prosecutors said.
Colleen O’Connor, who is leading Anderson’s defense team, said representing a death-penalty client is like no other case.
“The American Bar Association has standards for attorneys in death-penalty cases,” said O’Connor. “When you seek to execute a person, that’s the ultimate penalty. You don’t want to get it wrong. You don’t want to kill an innocent person.”
O’Connor said defense lawyers leading capital cases tend to be more expensive and more experienced. They also have to be familiar with mental-health testimony and the appellate courts. In most states, including Washington, at least one of the mandated two defense attorneys on a death-penalty case has to be certified to handle such cases.
Adding to the cost is the creation of a complete historical profile of death-penalty defendants, including tracing mental-health history back at least three generations.
“Let the jury see the whole person in the context of that crime. It’s not offering an excuse for the crime, but it’s offering an explanation,” O’Connor said.
Meanwhile, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole is “ready for trial,” said Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
The more than $675,000 spent in prosecuting the Carnation case includes attorney and staff salaries, as well as expert review, Donohoe said.
O’Toole led the prosecution of the county’s last death-penalty defendant, Conner Schierman, in 2010. Schierman was condemned to death row for killing Olga Milkin, 28, her sons, Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and Milkin’s sister Lyubov Botvina, 24, in Kirkland in July 2006.
It cost the county about $2.4 million to defend and prosecute Schierman.
Washington is one of 33 states that still has a death penalty.
“There have been five states in the last five years that have abandoned the death penalty, and costs were mentioned in all of them,” said Dieter, of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Someone in the state Legislature introduces a death-penalty abolition measure almost every session, but it never gains traction.
Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, who introduced a measure this year, believes the death penalty will be abolished in Washington “in the next few years.”
“I do think the mood across the country is changing,” Regala said. “The cost of that [legal process] is so high and we run the risk of executing an innocent person. We can protect our citizens by putting [convicted murderers] people away for the rest of their life.”
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, in an interview last year, said the death penalty “is the law of our state and a punishment we reserve for the worst of the worst offenders.”
He added, “If people want to change the policy they should do so through their elected representatives.”
Satterberg declined to be interviewed for this story.
Ross, McEnroe’s attorney, said her client would plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole, sparing the expense.
In 2008, Anderson told The Seattle Times in a jailhouse interview that she committed the killings 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.
Pam Mantle, who lost her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in the Carnation killings, has become cynical after waiting 4 ½ years for Anderson and McEnroe to be tried.
“We’re just exhausted trying to think we’re ever going to have a trial. We have put our lives on hold waiting. It’s just a mess,” Mantle said. “I think we’ll be sitting here in the same place at this same time next year.”
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.