"High court reviews exclusion of death penalty in 2007 Carnation killings," is by Sara Jean Green for the Seattle Times.
A King County judge overstepped his bounds when he ruled that prosecutors can’t seek the death penalty against the two people accused of killing a family of six on Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation, the state Supreme Court was told Thursday.
King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Whisman argued that under the state’s death-penalty statute, “discretion is placed with the prosecutor” to decide whether to seek capital punishment.
But in ruling out the death penalty, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell wasn’t privy to all of the information King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg considered in deciding to seek the death penalty, Whisman said.
“The court ruled the prosecutor can’t consider the strength of the evidence ... but he wasn’t clear on what he meant by ‘strength of the evidence,’ ” Whisman told the nine-member panel. Ramsdell did not have access to mitigation information on both defendants that was submitted by their defense attorneys, and the judge had previously denied a defense motion to compel Satterberg to spell out “which factors in the mitigation package he found persuasive and which ones” he didn’t, Whisman said.
But defense attorney Kathryn Ross, who represented defendants Michele Anderson and her former boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe, before the Supreme Court, said Satterberg’s decision to seek the death penalty was based only on the evidence and not on the mitigation evidence submitted by the defense. Ross argued that the state’s death-penalty statute is unique in that prosecutors are directed to impose it only if there isn’t sufficient evidence of mitigating factors to merit leniency.
“I guess that’s why we’re here — to decide how to read that statute. Is mitigation the only thing they consider” in deciding to seek the death penalty, said Chief Justice Barbara Madsen.
Ramsdell ruled that while Satterberg properly considered the “facts and circumstances” of the crimes, the prosecutor erroneously considered the strength of the state’s evidence against Anderson and McEnroe in deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
He said the prosecutor should only have weighed whether there were sufficient mitigating circumstances to warrant leniency if convicted — which in the case of aggravated first-degree murder means life in prison without the possibility of release, instead of death.
Under state law, mitigating factors in potential death-penalty cases can include evidence of an extreme mental disturbance or impairment. Leniency also can be merited if a suspect acted under duress or domination of another person.