WA Supreme Court Backs Death Penalty Decision for Couple

By Tom Bacon

The Washington State Supreme Court has unanimously backed a King County prosecutor's effort to seek the death penalty for a couple accused of executing an entire family on Christmas Eve 2007. 

In a rare, toe-to-toe legal wrestling match between a prosecutor and a superior court judge, the state's highest court ruled that prosecutors can seek the death penalty against Michele Anderson and her one-time boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe. The two are accused of murdering six members of Anderson's family in Carnation, Washington - her parents, brother, sister-in-law and two young children.

Anderson and McEnroe got a break when the trial judge ruled last January that prosecutors had gone too far in their bid to hold the threat of the death penalty over the pair. In essence, the judge held that the DA's office improperly considered the strength of their case against the two, when they should have weighed only whether mitigating circumstances existed.

The high court judges held that nothing in Washington legal statutes suggests that the strength of the evidence cannot be a factor in the prosecutor's decision to go after the death penalty. "Indeed," they wrote, "it makes good sense for prosecutors to reflect on the strength of their cases before deciding to seek the ultimate punishment."

The high court finding for the King County DA includes an order to the trial judge that he include the possibility of the death sentence against Anderson and McEnroe.

Washington may the only state which requires prosecutors to consider mitigating rather than aggravating factors when filing notice of a possible death penalty in capital cases. Mitigating factors under state law include the defendant's mental health and ability, his criminal history and age, whether he was acting under duress or under someone's domination, and whether the victim actually consented to the act of murder.
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