A King County jury has spared the life of Joseph McEnroe for killing six members of his ex-girlfriend’s family during a holiday gathering in Carnation on Christmas Eve 2007.
A jury has spared the life of Joseph McEnroe for killing six members of his ex-girlfriend’s family during a holiday gathering in Carnation on Christmas Eve 2007.
The same King County jurors who convicted McEnroe of the murders in March deliberated for about 3½ days before deciding against the death penalty and recommending that McEnroe be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
McEnroe sat quietly next to his attorneys, not appearing to react as the verdict was read Wednesday afternoon.
McEnroe, 36, was convicted of six counts of aggravated murder for killing three generations of his ex-girlfriend’s family as they gathered for a holiday celebration at her parent’s home. Killed were Wayne, 60, and Judy Anderson, 61; their son Scott and his wife, Erica Anderson, both 32; and the younger couple’s children, 5-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Nathan.
Jurors were then asked to decide between a life sentence or the death penalty, which required a unanimous verdict.
One juror leaving the courthouse said she was among four jurors who voted against the death penalty. She said there was an 8-4 split throughout the deliberations.
She said she was swayed by the “mitigating factors.”
“I don’t know if I can sum it up. It was just some of the mitigating factors — (McEnroe’s) childhood, the mental-health issues, everything that they listed up there. And that’s what ultimately made me decide.”
She said the deliberations were emotional.
“It still is,” she said.
A second juror, Trent Stewart, 38, of Woodinville, said he favored death for McEnroe, calling it a “personal decision.” He did not elaborate.
Asked if the deliberations were emotional, he said, “It sucked. It was miserable. That’s all I could say. This isn’t a decision that people should have to try and make.”
Pam Mantle, mother of Erica Anderson and grandmother of Olivia and Nathan, said she and her husband were “happy” with the verdict “because we don’t ever have to deal with it again. And it will be probably better for everybody involved to be able to just kind of put the McEnroe part of this case away.”
McEnroe’s role in the murders was never in doubt during his two-month criminal trial and the subsequent five-week “penalty phase” trial to determine his punishment. His taped confession to the murders during an interview with King County sheriff’s investigators was played in court, and he testified at length about his involvement during the penalty phase.
However, during his sometime emotional testimony, McEnroe and his attorneys claimed he had been coerced to kill by his former girlfriend, Anderson, whom he said wanted her family dead. McEnroe claimed Anderson had molded him “into an attack dog” and he told jurors she “did everything she could, every angle and every way to convince” him to kill her family.
Jurors also heard a taped interview Anderson gave to a King County sheriff’s detective about the fatal shootings. During the interview, she insisted the killings were “all my idea.”
Most Read Local Stories
- Washington state trooper who died of COVID hadn't been vaccinated yet, family says
- What to know about Monday's COVID vaccine deadline in Washington state
- Washington physician assistant’s license suspended over COVID actions
- Five I-5 rest areas to close in Snohomish and Whatcom counties over trash, vandalism
- Coronavirus daily news updates, Oct. 16: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
“I pushed him into it,” she said of McEnroe between sobs. “We both felt really bad. I should have walked away from it. I take 100 percent responsibility for it.”
McEnroe’s lawyers said he was susceptible to her coercion because of his struggles with mental illness and his “fragile” mental state.
McEnroe’s aunt, Mary Turner, of Portland, testified about her nephew’s chaotic upbringing as the son of a mentally and economically unstable mother. She said McEnroe’s mother beat him, verbally abused him and used him to manipulate her own parents for money.
King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole, who tried McEnroe, had urged jurors to condemn him to death, a punishment he called “just.” He underscored the number of victims as well as the ages of the two youngest, Olivia and Nathan.
“What Joseph McEnroe has done literally changes and destroys history,” O’Toole told the jury last week. “You will never know what the future might have been. This defendant, Joseph McEnroe, destroyed them for all time.”
O’Toole accused McEnroe of changing his demeanor, physical appearance and even his speech patterns since his arrest to elicit sympathy from jurors.
McEnroe testified that he and Anderson armed themselves and drove to the home of her parents, Wayne and Judy Anderson, on Christmas Eve 2007. Once inside, McEnroe distracted Judy Anderson, who was wrapping Christmas gifts, while Michele shot her father, O’Toole told the jury
After Michele’s gun jammed, McEnroe then killed Wayne and Judy Anderson.
The two then hid the bodies and carefully cleaned the home and waited for Anderson’s older brother, Scott, his wife, Erica, and their two young children, McEnroe said.
Once the family arrived, Anderson shot her brother, McEnroe testified. McEnroe then shot Erica Anderson and the children because he didn’t want witnesses.
During his testimony last month, McEnroe said that he killed Olivia and Nathan, the two children, because “if they weren’t already corrupted they would be by this [witnessing the murders]. The only decent thing to do was to free them.”
“At least they didn’t suffer,” he said.
Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell will formally sentence McEnroe at a later date, which has not been set.
O’Toole, the prosecutor, said he accepted the jury’s verdict.
“I will say in all sincerity that that is the system. And we respect the jury’s verdict,” he said.
“I think there were abundant mitigating circumstances to merit leniency,” said defense attorney William Prestia. He said McEnroe now “wants to try hard to redeem himself.”
In the years leading up to the trial, defense attorneys had repeatedly said McEnroe would change his plea to guilty if the prosecution took the death penalty off the table. But King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg had said the number of victims and the ages of the two children warranted the death penalty.
Michele Anderson will face a jury trial this fall. If convicted, she, too, faces a potential death sentence.
Of sitting through another lengthy murder trial, Mantle said, “We’ve climbed the mountain before. We’ll climb it again and we got to the top. And, you know, sometimes it’s … exhilarating at the top and sometimes it’s not.”
The cases against McEnroe and Anderson experienced a number of delays, including several trips to the state Supreme Court.
The justices have reversed Ramsdell’s orders on three separate occasions, including two challenges to the death penalty.
The delays helped push the combined cost of the prosecution of both McEnroe and Anderson to more than $10 million through March. At that time, the defense cost had totaled $4.4 million in McEnroe’s case, and $4.8 million in the case against Anderson, according to the King County Department of Public Defense.
The combined cost of prosecuting McEnroe and Anderson — which does not include costs associated with the criminal investigation or work done by the Washington State Patrol’s crime lab — was roughly $1.06 million through November, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.