In a unanimous decision Thursday, the justices said King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell was wrong to bar Prosecutor Dan Satterberg from pursuing capital punishment for Michele Anderson and her former boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe.
The two are charged with aggravated first-degree murder in the slaughter of Anderson's family - her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and her young niece and nephew.
Their lawyers argued that in deciding whether to seek death, Satterberg improperly considered the strength of his case - rather than only whether there was mitigating evidence that should warrant leniency. The lower court judge agreed.
But the justices said that argument made little sense. The court ruled that prosecutors may consider how strong their case is, as long as they also consider any mitigating factors.
"Prosecutors, in exercising their executive functions, better serve the public by holistically considering all facts and circumstances related to the crime, which, realistically, include the strength of evidence," Justice Charles Wiggins wrote for the court. "Given the time and expense it takes to prepare and try a capital case, it makes good sense for a prosecutor to seek the death penalty only when the prosecutor believes there is a good chance of obtaining a conviction."
Satterberg said in a written statement his office planned to ask Ramsdell to summon jurors for a trial to begin this fall.
"We are pleased that the Washington State Supreme Court expeditiously considered our appeal and has permitted this case to proceed to trial with all sentencing options available under state law," Satterberg said.