Joseph McEnroe could face the death penalty after being found guilty Wednesday of first-degree aggravated murder in the deaths of six members of a family in rural Carnation on Christmas Eve 2007.
The same jurors who concluded Joseph McEnroe killed six members of a family in Carnation will now decide if he should live or die.
The King County jury on Wednesday found McEnroe guilty of six counts of first-degree aggravated murder in the fatal shootings during a holiday gathering on Christmas Eve 2007. The jurors found the murders included aggravating circumstances, because of the number of victims, because they were part of a common scheme or plan and because some were committed to conceal a crime.
As a result, McEnroe faces one of two possible sentences: life in prison without parole, or death.
Starting on Tuesday morning, the jury will determine the sentence during a second trial called the “penalty” phase. During the trial, which is expected to last three weeks, the defense will present mitigating evidence about McEnroe’s troubled past in hopes of winning leniency.
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It’s the state’s job to prove “there’s not enough mitigating circumstances to warrant life,” said King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole, who tried the case. But at the end of the day, what happens to McEnroe “will be (the jury’s) call.”
If the jury decides on a death sentence, McEnroe will be the first person condemned to death in King County since 2010, when Conner Schierman was convicted of killing a Kirkland family of four.
The jury returned the six guilty verdicts in a hushed and crowded Seattle courtroom just after 1:30 p.m. Wednesday after deliberating for about a day and a half. McEnroe, 36, appeared to show little emotion when the verdict was read.
Pam Mantle, the mother of Erica Anderson, one of the victims, said the verdict was a relief, while acknowledging there will never be any closure for relatives of the six victims, who included two young children.
“I needed to hear somebody say ‘guilty,’ ” she said.
“We’re very pleased with the verdict that came back from the jury,” added O’Toole. “There’s still more to go.”
During two months of testimony and closing arguments earlier this week, jurors heard grisly details of the mass slayings, which took the lives of three generations of the Anderson family during a holiday gathering. It was the deadliest act of violence in King County since Kyle Huff, 28, fatally shot six people and wounded two before taking his life on March 25, 2006, on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
Because of taped confessions and jailhouse interviews given by McEnroe and co-defendant and former girlfriend Michele Anderson, the facts of the slayings were hardly in dispute during the trial. Anderson, 36, who is also charged with six counts of aggravated murder and could also face the death penalty, will be tried later this year.
According to testimony, McEnroe and Anderson armed themselves and drove their pickup to the home of her parents, Wayne Anderson, 60, and Judy Anderson, 61, on the afternoon of Dec. 24, 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, O’Toole said.
The two then hid the bodies and carefully cleaned the home and waited for Michele Anderson’s older brother, Scott, his wife, Erica, both 32, and their two young children, O’Toole said.
Once the family arrived, Michele Anderson shot her brother, according to O’Toole. McEnroe then shot Erica Anderson and the children, 5-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Nathan, because he didn’t want witnesses, O’Toole said.
The bodies were discovered two days later when a co-worker of Judy Anderson’s went to the home to see why she was absent from work. While King County detectives were at the property, McEnroe and Michele Anderson drove up and were questioned and arrested.
O’Toole told jurors the motive for the killings was money and Anderson’s belief she had been slighted and mistreated by her parents and brother.
McEnroe and Anderson were angry because her parents wanted the couple to pay rent for the trailer where they lived on the family’s property. They also believed that Scott owed his sister money for a car, O’Toole said.
“Joseph McEnroe is the reason these murders happened,” O’Toole told the jury during his closing argument Monday, noting McEnroe shot five of the six victims, including Nathan, who was still in diapers.
The defense’s case
McEnroe’s defense team blamed the slayings on Anderson, claiming she wielded such psychological control over McEnroe that he was essentially powerless to defy her plans to kill her family.
Defense witness Dr. Donald Dutton, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, testified that McEnroe and Anderson together suffered from “folie à deux,” a rare mental disorder in which two people share similar delusional beliefs. Living with Anderson in isolation, with her voice constantly in his ear, McEnroe became convinced that she was telling the truth when she said she had been abused by her parents and that her father was sadistic and vicious, Dutton told jurors.
Defense attorney Leo Hamaji, addressing jurors on Monday, said McEnroe was at most guilty of second-degree murder.
During 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 in announcing his office would seek the death penalty in October 2008, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg had said the number of victims and the ages of the two children warranted the death penalty.
“Given the magnitude of these alleged crimes, the slaying of three generations of a family, and particularly the slaying of two young children, I find that there are not sufficient reasons to keep the death penalty from being considered by the juries that will ultimately hear these matters,” Satterberg wrote in a statement.
Costs near $10 million
McEnroe met Anderson on an online dating site in about 2002 while he was living in Glendale, Ariz., his mother, Sean Johnson, of Minneapolis, told The Seattle Times in 2007. He moved to the Puget Sound region shortly after they met and planned to marry Anderson, Johnson said.
The cases against both McEnroe and Anderson experienced a number of delays, largely due to repeated trips to the state Supreme Court.
The justices have reversed Superior Court Judge Jeffrey 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 close to $10 million through October. At that time, the defense cost had totaled $4.06 million in McEnroe’s case, and $4.58 million in the case against Anderson, according to the King County Department of Public Defense.
The combined cost of prosecuting both defendants — which does not include costs associated with the criminal investigation or work done by the State Patrol’s crime lab — was roughly $1.06 million through November, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
If McEnroe is sent to death row, he will not be executed while Gov. Jay Inslee is in office. Last year, Inslee announced that no one would be executed while he’s governor, although there is the potential for future governors to reinstate the death penalty.
The last person to be executed in Washington state was Cal Coburn Brown, in September 2010, for abducting and killing Holly Washa near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on May 23, 1991.