For nearly 20 years, David Anderson maintained his innocence, claiming he had been wrongly convicted of killing four members of a Bellevue family in January 1997, just two months shy of his 18th birthday.
In separate trials in King County Superior Court, Anderson and his friend, Alex Baranyi, who was also 17 at the time of the killings, were each convicted of four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release for the deaths of William and Rose Wilson and their daughters, Kimberly and Julia.
At the time they were sentenced — Baranyi in January 1999 and Anderson in January 2000 — adults convicted of aggravated first-degree murder could face the death penalty but the only possible punishment for juveniles was life in prison.
That’s changed, though, over the past decade, starting with a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited life sentences for juveniles, and culminating in a recent state Supreme Court decision that bars de facto life sentences and requires that juveniles have the chance for a “meaningful life” outside of prison.
In 2016, Anderson acknowledged his guilt in the killing of his former classmate, 20-year-old Kimberly Wilson, at a Bellevue park, and then killing her parents and younger sister inside their home in Bellevue’s Woodridge neighborhood. Prosecutors argued it was a tactical decision on Anderson’s part to do so.
After hearing testimony over two days in late February, King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott on Friday resentenced Anderson to serve a minimum of 33 years behind bars, which means Anderson will become eligible for release in another eight years, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors had asked Scott to sentence Anderson to 45 years in prison while his defense attorney requested a low-end sentence of 25 years, court records show.
The state’s Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board will ultimately decide whether to release Anderson after he’s served 33 years, but he cannot legally be held in custody for more than 45 years, said Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. The board can also impose up to three years of community supervision, the state’s version of parole.
Several of the Wilson family’s relatives and friends submitted victim impact statements to Scott, detailing the heart-wrenching loss and trauma they suffered as a result of the murders, but they declined to comment Monday.
Anderson’s mother also declined to comment, and his defense attorney, David Montes, did not immediately respond to an email and voice message Monday seeking comment about Anderson’s new sentence.
In an emailed statement, Satterberg said the Wilson family was killed “for no rational reason” and their murders rank among the worst crimes ever committed in King County.
“When you see the gruesome details of this case — the calculated, senseless slaughter of family members just for the thrill of it — you can never get those horrific images out of your mind,” Satterberg wrote. “When we prosecuted this case, the court was well aware that David Anderson was 17 at the time, and that he purposefully killed the entire family before his 18th birthday to avoid more serious punishment. I understand that the law has changed, but the life sentence that had been originally imposed was the right sentence, in my opinion.”
Anderson, 43, is now incarcerated at the Monroe Correctional Complex while Baranyi, 42, is serving his sentence at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Though Baranyi can also file a petition with the court to seek a new sentence, he has not yet done so, McNerthney said.
Although the murder weapons were never found, DNA evidence — including the Wilsons’ blood found on a pair of Anderson’s boots — was among the evidence that led Bellevue police to arrest Baranyi and Anderson.
During the trial, Anderson’s friends testified he had talked about committing murder for two years, compiled a “hit list” that included Kimberly Wilson’s name, researched state law and decided to kill someone before his 18th birthday because he knew as a juvenile his punishment would be more lenient than that faced by an adult, according to the state’s resentencing memo filed in February.
Around 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 3, 1997, Anderson borrowed his girlfriend’s pickup, picked up Baranyi and dropped him off at Woodridge Water Tower Park, a small neighborhood park in Bellevue, the memo says. Anderson then picked up Kimberly Wilson from her house nearby and returned to the park, where Baranyi strangled her from behind with a rope as Anderson beat and stomped her to death.
Anderson and Baranyi then went to the Wilsons’ house to eliminate witnesses because Kimberly Wilson’s parents and sister knew she had left the house with Anderson that night, the memo says. They entered through an unlocked door and repeatedly stabbed William and Rose Wilson, ages 52 and 46, with knives and bludgeoned them with a baseball bat as the couple were asleep in bed, the memo says.
Julia Wilson, 17, had been studying for a chemistry test in her pajamas when she was repeatedly stabbed and bludgeoned, the memo says.
After children found Kimberly Wilson’s body at the park, police went to the family’s residence, where they discovered the bodies of her parents and sister.
In 2016, prosecutors say Anderson “made the tactical decision to acknowledge his guilt” to take advantage of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision, known as the Miller decision, that determined the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments precludes mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders.
Miller, which did not categorically bar life sentences, found that juveniles are not as criminally culpable as adults and have a greater capacity to change, so required judges to consider as mitigating factors youth and its attendant characteristics, such as impulsivity, failure to appreciate risks or consequences and susceptibility to familial or peer pressure.
In September, a state Supreme Court decision went a step further, prohibiting de facto life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder in the case of Timothy Haag, who was 17 in 1994 when he killed his friend’s 7-year-old sister in Longview, Cowlitz County.
Haag had originally been sentenced to life in prison but was resentenced under the Miller decision to 46 years in prison, a sentence he then appealed.
The justices vacated that sentence, ruling the punishment focused more on retribution than rehabilitation.
Releasing Haag from prison at age 63 “deprives him of a meaningful opportunity to return to society, depriving him of a meaningful life,” the majority opinion says.
Because of the ruling in Haag, King County prosecutors were legally constrained from seeking a new sentence of 46 years or longer in Anderson’s case.