A King County jury has found Conner Schierman guilty of the July 2006 murders of four members of a Kirkland family.
The King County jury that found Conner Schierman guilty Monday of four brutal murders will return to court later this week to determine whether the 28-year-old’s crimes warrant the death penalty.
After slightly more than a day of deliberating, 12 jurors found Schierman guilty of four counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and Milkin’s sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24. Schierman was also convicted of one count of first-degree arson for setting the Milkins’ home ablaze after the slayings.
The jurors will now return to court Thursday to begin deciding whether Schierman should be executed for the murders. The only other possible penalty for aggravated murder is life in prison without parole.
Schierman’s family declined to comment after the verdict was read in a courtroom crowded with his relatives as well as police, firefighters and relatives of the victims.
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Pavel Milkin, Olga Milkin’s father-in-law, said he was happy with the verdict but declined to comment in detail until after the death-penalty trial concludes.
Courtroom observers said the relatively quick verdict may not bode well for the defense, which will now try to save Schierman from execution. Defense attorney James Conroy said he plans to spend the next several weeks telling jurors about his client and that “he’s a good person.”
Conroy said he plans to have witnesses help jurors understand every aspect of his client.
Conroy said that he “obviously disagreed with the outcome” on Monday. “We have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
During the next trial, commonly known as the penalty phase, the defense said it plans to call 79 witnesses.
The state plans to call fewer than 10 witnesses to the stand, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole.
Kirkland police Detective Brad Porter, who led the investigation, watched Schierman closely as the verdict was read, noting that tears welled up in the convicted killer’s eyes at one point.
“In the end, the only thing that matters is the truth,” Porter said.
Schierman’s 11-week trial wrapped up Thursday with both sides presenting closing arguments in a packed courtroom. Those attending included Leonid Milkin, whose wife and sons were killed in the family’s Kirkland home on July 16, 2006. He was serving in Iraq with the Army National Guard when his family was killed.
Botvina was staying with her sister for the summer, helping with the two boys. She was a sophomore at Seattle Pacific University, where she majored in linguistics.
Schierman had moved into a duplex across the street from the victims 17 days before the slayings. A self-described recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Schierman worked at a pet store and was a maintenance worker in Kirkland. He had no criminal record before his arrest in the murders.
The defense did not dispute that Schierman set fire to the home. But it claimed he suffered an alcohol-induced blackout and doesn’t remember why or how he ended up in Olga Milkin’s house covered in blood.
After discovering the bodies of the four victims, Schierman feared no one would believe he couldn’t remember what had happened, so he set fire to the house, defense attorney Conroy said during closing arguments.
Conroy also didn’t dispute that DNA evidence placed Schierman inside the Milkin residence: “It proves he was there, no question.”
But Conroy suggested that someone else committed the murders and that a drunk Schierman merely stumbled into the crime scene. He pointed to a shoe print, a palm print and traces of DNA found in the house that didn’t match Schierman or any of the victims.
In setting the fire, Schierman “may have destroyed exculpatory evidence. We don’t know,” Conroy said.
O’Toole ridiculed that assertion during his rebuttal. O’Toole asked whether jurors could seriously believe that Schierman armed himself with two knives and a small ax, walked across the street to his neighbors’ house, discovered a blood-soaked crime scene and, instead of returning home, decided to take a nap there.
O’Toole questioned whether Schierman — who’d gone through an alcohol-treatment program and had been sober for months — was even intoxicated at the time of the homicides. He said the amount of vodka Schierman claimed to have consumed that evening increased every time he was interviewed by police, even though Schierman’s best friend and sister testified they saw no signs that he’d been drinking.
Though the women’s bodies offered no evidence of sexual assault — and no definitive motive for the crimes is known — O’Toole alluded to some kind of sexual undertone. Earlier on July 16, Schierman made a crude, sexual comment about the women — later apologizing to his own sister for the remark, O’Toole said.
O’Toole also noted that Olga Milkin was found naked and her sister was only partially clothed, her pajama pants stuffed into the microwave. He also noted that bloody clothes — men’s shorts, a T-shirt, a pair of socks — found in a bathroom had DNA from Schierman and his female victims.
O’Toole also disputed Schierman’s claims that injuries he had suffered, including deep scratches on his face and a puncture wound on his wrist, occurred when he intervened in a domestic-violence assault on a woman at a gas station. He said surveillance footage from the gas station revealed no such altercation occurred.
They did, however, find video showing Schierman purchasing gasoline 29 minutes before the first firefighters were called to put out the blaze at the Milkin house.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green and Times archives is included in this report