On the morning of May 7, when 12 King County jurors sat down to decide the fate of Joseph McEnroe, the group’s friendliness and good humor during the lengthy trial gave way to anger, hostility and tears.
They bonded like family during the months they were thrown together.
They shared lunches, brought in sweets to mark birthdays, learned intimate details about each others’ families, and a couple even spent Easter together. They clung to one another for support as they endured seemingly interminable days hearing horrific details of the murders of six people, including two young children, during a Christmas Eve gathering in Carnation in 2007.
But on the morning of May 7, when the 12 King County jurors sat down to decide the fate of Joseph McEnroe, friendships crumbled, kindness evaporated and the peals of communal laughter were replaced with anger, hostility and tears.
Almost immediately, four jurors indicated they were opposed to the death penalty for McEnroe, opting instead for life in prison without parole. Three were undecided and five others said they were leaning toward execution, according to seven jurors interviewed by The Seattle Times.
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Three of the dissenters felt so strongly that they refused to deliberate, some of the jurors said.
One of two dissenters interviewed by The Times said that after her sister was slain 15 years ago — a crime that remains unsolved — she became a supporter of the death penalty. The McEnroe trial changed her mind, she said.
Both dissenters said they felt pressured by other jurors to condemn McEnroe to death, but they refused.
In the end, the jury was split 8-4 in favor of death, a sentence that required unanimity.
After 3½ days, the jury filed back into Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell’s courtroom on May 13 to announce they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. As a result, McEnroe’s life was spared. He will be sentenced to life in prison on June 10.
The seven jurors interviewed this week by The Times offered differing perspectives on the deliberations, depending on how they voted. All spoke on the condition of anonymity, except for Trent Stewart, 38, of Woodinville, who favored death for McEnroe and who was also interviewed by a Times reporter immediately after the verdict was announced.
The five who believed a death sentence was warranted said the dissenters seemed unwilling to cast aside their preconceived opinions about the death penalty to allow for legitimate deliberations.
“We feel like we were pawns in a political statement,” said one juror, a 61-year-old woman who served as foreman. “We were dealing with some pretty horrible things. We were asked to put our opinions aside.”
The foreman calls herself an anti-war activist. She said she has always opposed the death penalty on a personal level, but believes that McEnroe’s crimes warranted the sentence.
“I’m not for an eye-for-an-eye or for revenge killing; that’s the way I am and how I raised my kids. We were asked to do a job and remove our personal opinions,” she said.
“There wasn’t a night in the 57 days (of the trial) that I didn’t go home and question why I was supporting it,” she said of the death penalty. “It was hard to do, but it was the right thing.”
Though the trial spanned four months, there were 57 actual trial days.
The five jurors say they don‘t believe the four dissenters lied during jury selection when all were asked whether they could be fair and impartial.
Instead, they say they feel like there was a complete shutdown of talks during deliberations. The five said three of the four dissenters simply opted to not deliberate in good faith.
“The ‘no’s never gave anything,” said one of the five. “One said she didn’t have to explain anything. She then took out her phone and played games.”
“It wasn’t like we wanted to go for the death penalty, but we asked them to please show us something to change our minds,” said another. “They said they couldn’t. That they didn’t have to.”
But one of the four jurors who favored sparing McEnroe’s life told The Times that it wasn’t the dissenters’ responsibility to convince fellow jurors to change their minds.
“I know people were mad,” said the 70-year-old woman. “I made my decision, and my conscience is fine with it. They needed to make their decision and not attack us for it.”
The second woman who supported leniency for McEnroe said the other jurors tried to “guilt” the dissenters into changing their minds.
“One of the jurors literally grabbed the photos of the victims and started giving a speech,” said the 45-year-old woman. “I told him to sit down, and said, ‘You will not guilt me. I know what it’s like to be a crime victim.’ ”
The woman said she has empathy for relatives of the six people McEnroe murdered. Her 23-year-old sister was killed in 2000 in a South King County drive-by shooting.
Both dissenting jurors said they weighed mitigating circumstances presented by the defense, which contended McEnroe was mentally ill and had been coerced into murder by his former girlfriend and co-defendant, Michele Anderson.
“For me it was a combination of the mental-health issues, the childhood he had, Michele’s influence on him, the lack of criminal history — all of that played a factor in my decision,” said the 45-year-old.
Misgivings made clear
The 70-year-old woman said she told her fellow jurors — as well as the prosecution and the defense, in the 81-page questionnaire all potential jurors filled out during the selection process, or voir dire — that she doesn’t “lean toward” supporting the death penalty.
“In the United States it’s very unfairly applied,” she told The Times. “I also think, for our society as a whole, it doesn’t deter anybody from killing.”
The woman said she believed she deliberated with an open mind and did not let her views on the death penalty influence her decision.
“In fairness, everybody looked at all of the circumstances. People came down on giving different levels of importance to some things,” she said. “The people who were for the death penalty said our reasons were not sufficient.”
William Prestia, McEnroe’s lawyer, said that he met with the jurors after the verdict was announced and was struck by how “deeply emotional” the deliberations were.
“They were all affected deeply. While some jurors kind of were in the middle and thinking ‘which way am I going to go?,’ others felt strongly about their positions,” Prestia said.
After talking to most of the jurors individually, King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole, who tried the case, said he doesn’t believe the prosecution made any mistakes during voir dire in selecting a jury. Even though summonses were sent out to 3,000 potential jurors, O’Toole said it would be virtually impossible to find someone with absolutely no opinion on the death penalty.
“In my own view, I really was looking for people who will follow the law. I was looking for people who keep an open mind,” O’Toole said. “I don’t know what I could have done differently.”
Little question of guilt
Despite the disagreement over McEnroe’s punishment, there was never much question of his guilt, the seven jurors said.
In a taped interview with detectives and during the trial’s penalty phase, McEnroe, 36, admitted to killing three generations of his ex-girlfriend’s family as they gathered for a holiday celebration at her parent’s home on Dec. 24, 2007. 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.
The jury convicted McEnroe of the six murders in March after deliberating for a day and a half.
University of Miami professor Scott Sundby, who has spent the past 27 years interviewing members of death-penalty juries for legal research and for his book “A Life and Death Decision: A Jury Weighs the Death Penalty,” said it’s common for tempers to run high during the penalty-phase deliberations.
Sundby said jurors often say they get along well during the criminal-phase deliberations, when they decide on guilt or innocence. But, he said, things often change when it comes time to determine punishment.
“When you get to the penalty phase, it’s where each of us, each juror, has to bring their own sense of morality and justice and belief in mercy,” Sundby said. “It’s why death-penalty cases are so fascinating to both scholars and the public. What is the just punishment for what this person did? Who is this person?”
Sundby said determining whether a sentence is warranted is “the most demanding question we have in the entire legal system for juries to decide.”
The 70-year-old juror who voted to spare McEnroe’s life said the tumultuous deliberations left her in tears even days after the verdict was announced. She said she is now seeing a therapist.
With more than a week behind them since the verdict was announced, the five jurors who favored death for McEnroe all said they are disappointed in the judicial system and dread ever being called for another jury.
“This isn’t bitter grapes,” said the jury foreman. “There is personal responsibility. If executing six people is not the worst-of-the-worst crime, what is?”