King County prosecutors on Monday charged a Seattle woman with premeditated first-degree murder and first-degree assault in connection with a double stabbing at a Belltown apartment building last week.
The charges were filed against 46-year-old Michael Lowell Roberts but note the defendant is also known as Justine Stephenson and identifies as a woman. She was booked into the King County Jail as Roberts, jail records show.
Killed was 48-year-old Stanimir “Stan” Tzankov, the maintenance service manager at the Centennial Tower and Court Apartments in the 2500 block of Fourth Avenue, the charges say. A GoFundMe campaign raised more than $50,000 in three days to help Tzankov’s wife and son before the family requested that it be ended on Saturday.
The building’s general manager, a 43-year-old woman, was also stabbed when she attempted to stop the attack on Tzankov and pepper-sprayed Stephenson, say the charges. She was treated at Harborview Medical Center and released Wednesday, the same day as the stabbing, said hospital spokesperson Susan Gregg. Tzankov died at the hospital later that night.
Though a judge initially set Stephenson’s bail at $3 million, King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor William Doyle requested she be held without bail because the murder and assault charges carry potential life sentences; a judge agreed, court records show.
Under state law, bail can be denied for offenses punishable by life in prison if there is convincing evidence a defendant has a propensity for violence that creates a substantial likelihood of danger to the community or any person.
In the charges, Doyle outlines Stephenson’s “frightening history of threats and assaults” against staff members at the apartment complex, including Tzankov, who Stephenson allegedly threatened with a box cutter in July. She also swung a kitchen knife at his face in August, Doyle wrote in charging papers.
Stephenson also threatened the building’s general manager on Sept. 15, angry that she had been locked out even though all residents had been issued new key fobs and she hadn’t picked hers up, the charges say.
The charges quote her as telling the general manager: “If you ever lock me out of my home again, I will slaughter you and your staff,” Doyle wrote.
It was that incident that led the general manager to obtain an eviction order and protection order against Stephenson, the charges say.
“Just eight days later, when the defendant was being evicted, she tragically followed up on her threat,” Doyle wrote. “After threatening movers with a knife, she went down 24 flights of stairs, walked into the lobby, and then fixated on Tzankov.”
She screamed an expletive and stabbed Tzankov in the stomach; when the general manager intervened, Stephenson slashed her across the abdomen, then stabbed Tzankov in the chest, fatally wounding him, Doyle wrote in the charges. She then barricaded herself in her apartment and was arrested by a Seattle police SWAT team.
Doyle wrote that while Stephenson does not have any criminal convictions, she was charged in King County District Court with fourth-degree assault and first-degree criminal trespass, accused of barging into a Microsoft conference room in May, assaulting employees and threatening to bury one employee alive. Those charges are still pending.
According to the murder and assault charges filed Monday:
It’s unclear when Stephenson moved into the Centennial Apartments, but she had had a high-paying job with Microsoft and at first was a pleasant tenant, say the charges, noting average rent at the Centennial is $4,000 a month.
The general manager later told Seattle police homicide detectives that Stephenson started exhibiting bizarre behavior earlier this year and had become confrontational and aggressive.
Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, four King County Sheriff’s deputies accompanied staff members to Stephenson’s apartment to serve the eviction notice, but she wasn’t home. A staff member unlocked the door and changed the locks and the deputies left but told staff to call them if Stephenson returned.
The general manager had hired a moving crew to pack up Stephenson’s belongings as well as a private security company to have a guard present during the move-out, the charges say.
When Stephenson returned home a short time later, she threatened the movers with a knife and was pepper-sprayed by the guard, allowing the movers to exit the apartment. She then went down the stairs and stabbed Tzankov and the general manager in the lobby, an attack witnessed by several people, according to the charges.
During the time Stephenson was in the lobby, the movers resumed packing up her apartment. One mover later told police Stephenson returned to the unit with blood on her hands and threatened to cut the movers if they didn’t leave.
After Stephenson was arrested, police served a search warrant on her apartment and found writings referencing the August incident with Tzankov, according to the charges.
Stephenson is to be arraigned Oct. 12. Court records do not indicate if she has an attorney.