Joseph McEnroe has attempted to plead guilty the spree during which he and his then-girlfriend Michele Anderson are alleged to have gunned down six members of Anderson's family, including her elderly parents and two young children. McEnroe and Anderson may face execution if convicted in the Christmas Eve 2007 murders; the case is slated to finally go to a jury in March.
McEnroe admitted to the killings in a lengthy statement to the court, although he made his guilty plea to "non-capital" aggravated murder, a novel crime not listed in state law.
Having faced execution since 2008, McEnroe's attorneys claim he's able to dodge execution through the plea. He made the unsolicited confession as part of an effort by the defense to take the death sentence out of play.
Speaking Thursday, King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O'Toole faulted McEnroe for pretending nobility while attempting to dodge responsibility.
"Joseph McEnroe is not going to dictate his punishment," O'Toole said following a hearing Thursday. Prosecutors are expected to oppose McEnroe's plea attempt at another pre-trial hearing later this month.
If admitting to executing two small children and a woman pleading for her life carried any emotional weight for McEnroe, he didn't show it in court Thursday. As has been his habit the past six years, McEnroe sat stiff and silent while the attorneys made legal arguments far removed from the cold, cruel facts of the Christmas Eve slayings.
The admission of guilt has delayed the already long-slowed case by another week, and may push it back further should an appeal be filed. King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell has yet to say whether he'll accept McEnroe's unorthodox plea.
McEnroe, in a memo drafted by his attorneys and filed earlier this month, pleaded guilty to the six counts of aggravated first-degree murder he currently faces. The only punishments for that crime are life in prison without the possibility of parole, and death.
Public defenders Kathryn Ross, Leo Hamaji and William Prestia contend McEnroe may plead to the initial charges filed against him, without acknowledging that the prosecutor is seeking execution. The defense contends McEnroe wasn't properly notified he would face a death sentence; the fact that the "death notice" against him has been litigated before the state Supreme Court went unmentioned.
Prosecutors have yet to formally respond to the plea, though they can be expected to attempt to block the defense move.
For her part, Anderson has previously admitted to the killings in letters to the press and statements to police. She has not, however, attempted to plead guilty to the charges against her.
Prosecutors contend Anderson and McEnroe gunned down Anderson's parents, her brother and sister-in-law and that couple's two children, aged 6 and 3. Each defendant faces six counts of aggravated murder, the only crime in the state that can carry a death sentence.
Anderson and McEnroe first killed Anderson's parents, Wayne and Judy, at their Carnation home, prosecutors claim. They are alleged to have then turned their guns on 6-year-old Olivia Anderson and her brother, Nathan, 3. They were shot to death alongside their parents, Scott Anderson and Erica Mantle Anderson, as all four arrived for a Christmas Eve celebration.
The slain weren't discovered until two days later, when a family friend stopped by. Investigators then swarmed the property, collecting extensive evidence related to the killings.
It was while that investigation was ongoing that Anderson and McEnroe returned to the property. Investigators found it odd that they neither asked what was happening - helicopters were circling the property where they and Anderson's parents lived - or whether Anderson's family was safe.
Shortly after the killings, Anderson told police she felt slighted by her parents and was angry they'd begun demanding she and McEnroe pay rent to live in the mobile home on the property, according to prosecutors' statements. Police say both admitted to the killings shortly after being arrested at the crime scene the day the bodies were discovered.
According to court papers, Anderson told police she and McEnroe first killed her parents and then waited for her brother to arrive with his family. When they did, prosecutors contend Anderson shot her brother and sister-in-law; McEnroe is alleged to have executed Erika before killing the two children.
"When asked why she killed her entire family Michele stated that she was tired of everybody stepping on her," King County Sheriff's Detective Scott Tompkins said in court papers.
"When asked about Erika and the children in particular," the detective continued, "she stated it was a combination of not wanting them to have to live with the memories and not wanting there to be any witnesses."
McEnroe made similar admissions following his arrest, the detective noted. According to charging papers, McEnroe described killing the children in chilling detail, telling detectives he locked eyes with the 3-year-old boy before shooting him in the head.
Since King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced he would seek execution in the case in October 2008, defense attorneys for Anderson and McEnroe have fought vigorously to have capital punishment taken out of play. Doing so, they've been accused by the prosecution of simply attempting to delay the case and raise its costs.
Attorneys for Anderson have argued that she is mentally ill and should not face a death sentence, despite her protests to the contrary. In letters sent from jail, Anderson initially expressed a desire to be put to death, seeing her execution as a way to make right her wrongs; her attorneys later said she no longer holds that view.
First offering mitigating evidence in an attempt to sway Satterberg from seeking a death sentence, the attorneys in recent months have argued that the state capital punishment system is flawed to the point of unconstitutionality.
Ramsdell sided with the defense, striking the "death notice" Satterberg issued and requiring that a jury only impose a life sentence if the couple is convicted. The state Supreme Court overruled in September, finding the prosecutor was within his rights to seek execution.
Jury selection in the case had been expected to begin later in January. Opening statements would likely come in March or April. Anderson is currently at Western State Hospital while McEnroe remains jailed.