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Originally published February 4, 2013 at 9:20 PM | Page modified February 5, 2013 at 10:15 AM

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Prosecutor challenges ruling in Carnation death-penalty case

King County prosecutors are challenging a ruling by a Superior Court judge last week that concluded the two people accused of killing a family of six on Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation will not face the death penalty if convicted.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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King County prosecutors filed an emergency motion Monday challenging a ruling by a Superior Court judge last week that concluded the two people accused of killing a family of six on Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation will not face the death penalty if convicted.

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell issued a ruling that said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg “erred as a matter of law” in announcing he would seek the death penalty against Michele Anderson and her former boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe, who are each charged with six counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

Ramsdell’s ruling says that while Satterberg properly considered “the facts and circumstances” of the crimes, the prosecutor erroneously considered the strength of the state’s evidence against McEnroe and Anderson in deciding whether to seek the death penalty.

The judge wrote in his 13-page order that prosecutors should only have weighed whether mitigating circumstances existed in the decision to seek the death penalty.

Ramsdell’s ruling is premature, violates the separation of powers doctrine, and represents a “failure of logic,” according to an emergency motion for discretionary review filed in the state Court of Appeals, which laid out five separate issues for review and seeks reversal of Ramsdell’s ruling.

McEnroe, 34, is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 25 and prosecutors already have sent out summons to 3,000 potential jurors, the motion says.

Katie Ross, a member of McEnroe’s defense team, had not seen a copy of the state’s motion Monday but had anticipated the arguments that were raised.

“We believe the judge’s decision was correct ... and we believe it will be upheld,” she said of Ramsell’s ruling.

McEnroe’s attorneys have argued in court that Satterberg failed to consider mitigating factors that could merit leniency in seeking the death penalty and focused instead only on the overwhelming evidence in the case.

Both defendants gave lengthy confessions to police, and McEnroe’s defense team has repeatedly said if the death penalty was removed from consideration, their client would plead guilty and be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole — a position Ross reiterated Monday.

Anderson and her then-boyfriend, McEnroe, were charged in December 2007 with the Christmas Eve shooting deaths of three generations of Anderson’s family in rural Carnation. Both confessed to the killings of Anderson’s parents, brother, sister-in-law and the younger couple’s two young children.

In its motion Monday, prosecutors argued that Ramsdell’s ruling is premature because neither McEnroe nor Anderson has been tried, let alone convicted or sentenced to death.

“If the state did not seek review now, the defendants would doubtless argue that the state could not seek to reinstate the death penalty on direct appeal on double jeopardy grounds,” it says.

The motion also notes that the state Legislature vested sole discretion on whether to seek the death penalty with elected county prosecutors — and argues that Ramsdell’s ruling “has usurped the prosecutor’s executive decision” and undermines a prosecutor’s discretion and autonomy.

Ramsdell’s ruling is “based on a failure of logic” because it is impossible to uncouple “facts and circumstances” of a crime from “the strength of the evidence,” the motion says.

“This is a logical failure because the ‘facts and circumstances’ of a case are necessarily defined by the evidence that is available to prove those ‘facts and circumstances’ at trial,” according to the motion, which also argues that the state Supreme Court has held prosecutors “should consider any available information about the defendant and the crime in deciding whether to seek the death penalty.”

Prosecutors aren’t required by law to say what mitigating factors they considered in deciding whether to pursue capital punishment.

Under state law, mitigating factors in potential death-penalty cases can include evidence of an extreme mental disturbance or impairment because of a mental disease or defect; leniency also can be merited if a suspect acted under duress or domination of another person.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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