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Originally published May 5, 2010 at 2:32 PM | Page modified May 6, 2010 at 11:32 AM

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Jury votes to execute Kirkland killer of 4

A King County Superior Court jury on Wednesday afternoon recommended Conner Schierman be sentenced to death for killing a Kirkland woman, her two young sons and her sister in 2006.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The death penalty

The most recent death sentence handed down in King County was to Dayva Cross, convicted in 2001 of killing his wife and stepdaughters in 1999 near Snoqualmie.

Washington's last execution was of James Elledge, 58, in August 2001.

Names of those on death row in Washington

Jonathan L. Gentry, convicted in 1991 in Kitsap County of fatally bludgeoning 12-year-old Cassie Holden near Bremerton in 1981.

Cal Coburn Brown, convicted Dec. 10, 1993, in King County for the 1991 rape and stabbing death of 22-year-old Holly Washa, of Burien.

Darold Stenson, sentenced in Clallam County in 1994 for shooting his wife, Denise, 28, in an effort to collect $800,000 in insurance and then killing Frank Hoerner, 33, to make it look like a love-triangle murder-suicide.

Clark Elmore, sentenced in Whatcom County in 1996 for raping and killing 14-year-old Kristy Ohnstad in 1995.

Dwayne L. Woods, convicted in June 20, 1997 in Spokane County of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for killing Telisha Shaver, 22, and Jade Moore, 18.

Cecil Emile Davis, convicted in Feb. 6, 1998 in Pierce County of killing Yoshiko Couch, 65, in 1997 after burglarizing her home, robbing and raping her.

Dayva Cross, convicted in 2001 June 22, 2001, in King County for the stabbing deaths of his wife, Anouchka Baldwin, 37, and stepdaughters Amanda Baldwin, 15, and Salome Holle, 18, near Snoqualmie in 1999.

Robert Lee Yates Jr., convicted Oct. 4, 2002, in Pierce County of killing Melinda Mercer, 24, in 1997 and Connie LaFontaine Ellis, 35, in 1998.

Source: Washington state Attorney General's Office

Timeline of Schierman case

July 17, 2006: Firefighters respond to a house fire in the 9500 block of Slater Avenue Northeast in Kirkland. The bodies of four people — Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin Milkin, 5; and Andrew Milkin, 3; and her sister Lyubov Botvina, 24; are found in the charred wreckage. Police say all were stabbed to death before the house was set on fire.

July 19: Neighbor Conner Schierman, 24, who had moved into a duplex across the street from the victims about three weeks earlier, is arrested.

July 24: Schierman is charged with four counts of aggravated murder and one count of first-degree arson. Then-King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng says his office is weighing the death penalty.

July 31: Schierman pleads not guilty to all charges.

Jan. 30, 2007: Maleng announces he will pursue the death penalty.

Jan. 20, 2010: Schierman's trial opens in King County Superior Court.

April 12: Schierman is convicted on all counts.

April 19: The penalty phase of Schierman's trial opens as jurors begin weighing whether he should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole.

Wednesday: Jurors decide Schierman should be executed.

Source: Seattle Times archives

For the relatives of the four murder victims, forgiveness came long before a King County Superior Court jury condemned Conner Schierman to death on Wednesday.

To them, holding a grudge against Schierman for stabbing to death two women and two small children and then burning their bodies in a Kirkland house fire didn't coincide with their deep Christian beliefs.

Still, Vita Petrus couldn't help but feel the family had been cheated after Schierman failed to offer the family an apology for casting them into a "nightmare" nearly four years ago.

"The man who has taken the lives of my sisters and their children, the least he could do is say, 'I'm sorry,' " said Petrus. "We do forgive him."

After about a day and a half of deliberations, jurors on Wednesday recommended Schierman be executed for killing Olga Milkin, 28, her sons, Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; and Milkin's sister Lyubov Botvina, 24, in July 2006. In unanimously deciding for death, the jury determined that life in prison without parole — the only other possible verdict under state law — was an insufficient penalty for the murders of four people.

The same 12 jurors last month found Schierman guilty of four counts of aggravated murder and one count of first-degree arson.

Schierman, 28, the first person sentenced to death in King County since 2001, shook his head as the verdict was read, but otherwise showed no emotion. On Monday, he had tearfully pleaded with jurors for mercy on behalf of his family.

Jurors declined to comment about their decision. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O'Toole said that they were exhausted and just wanted to go home after sitting in a trial that began on Jan. 20.

But of their verdict, jurors told O'Toole: "It was a draining decision, not something easy; something they have tremendous confidence in," he said.

Leonid Milkin, whose wife and two young sons were slain, smiled after the verdict was announced and said he was "relieved that this day has finally come."

"I'm just glad the justice system worked," said Milkin, who was serving with the National Guard in Iraq when his family was killed. "I miss my family greatly. Every day for the rest of my life I will think about them and miss them."

Milkin, 33, who has vowed to rebuild the house that his wife loved so much, has long supported the death penalty for Schierman.

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"Conner Schierman came in the middle of the night like a thief and stole my family," he said.

After the verdict was announced, Schierman's family, many of whom had pleaded with the jury over the past few weeks to spare him, walked past members of the media without saying a word.

Defense attorney James Conroy said he plans to appeal the verdict.

He said O'Toole's comments during closing arguments in the trial's penalty phase, comparing the killings to the Holocaust and a terrorism plot, were "inflammatory" and "over the top." He also said he was concerned with some of the people selected for the jury, though he did not elaborate.

While the jury decision means Schierman will be sent to death row, Superior Court Judge Gregory Canova will formally sentence Schierman at a later date, which has not been set. Conroy says he wants it scheduled soon so the appellate process can get going.

Schierman's greatest concern with the jury verdict is how it will affect his family, Conroy said.

After Schierman was convicted of the murders and arson on April 12, jurors began weighing his punishment in a second trial, called the penalty phase. The second trial allowed the prosecution to focus solely on the victims and how they were affected by the slayings, while the defense presented testimony on Schierman's character.

Schierman's family told jurors about their love for the defendant. His mother, Wendy Dubinsky, called him "the love of her life" and showed jurors origami and soap carvings her son had made in jail as a way to explain how he spends his time.

On Monday, Schierman pleaded with the jury for leniency, at times breaking down in tears, and told the victims' family that he was sorry for their loss.

"I want to be clear, I'm not asking for your pity or your sympathy," Schierman said in court. "I may not have the right to ask anything of you, but I'm asking for mercy. If not for me, then for those who love me."

But Schierman did not apologize for the slayings, of which he claimed he had no recollection.

Schierman had moved into a duplex across the street from the victims 17 days before the July 16, 2006 slayings. A self-described recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Schierman worked at a pet store and was a maintenance worker in Kirkland.

The defense did not dispute that Schierman set fire to the home. But it claimed he suffered an alcohol-induced blackout and doesn't remember why or how he ended up in the Milkin house covered in blood.

After discovering the bodies of the four victims, Schierman feared no one would believe he couldn't remember what had happened, so he set fire to the house, defense attorney Conroy said during closing arguments.

No clear-cut motive for the slayings ever emerged during the lengthy trial. During the trial, O'Toole said that Milkin and Botvina's nearly nude bodies were found propped on a futon.

The last person to be sentenced to death in King County was Dayva Cross, who was convicted on June 22, 2001, for the stabbing deaths of his wife, Anouchka Baldwin, 37, and stepdaughters Amanda Baldwin, 15, and Salome Holle, 18, near the town of Snoqualmie in 1999.

The last person to be executed in Washington was James Elledge, 58, who died by lethal injection in August 2001 for the 1998 strangling and stabbing of Eloise Jane Fitzner, 47, at a Lynnwood church.

Two death-row inmates, Darold Stenson and Cal Coburn Brown, were the most recent inmates scheduled for execution in 2008 and 2009, but their cases were stayed after their lawyers argued that the drugs used by the state Department of Corrections for lethal injection could constitute cruel and unusual punishment if they don't work properly.

In March, the state changed its method of execution from a three-drug cocktail to a one-drug system. It's unclear how that change will affect the executions of Stenson and Brown, which have not been rescheduled.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporter Jack Broom contributed to this report, which includes information from Seattle Times archives.

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