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Originally published February 19, 2013 at 8:01 PM | Page modified February 19, 2013 at 9:13 PM

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Costly Carnation murder case ‘in limbo’ after high-court order

With just weeks to go before Joseph McEnroe, one of two defendants accused of killing a family in Carnation on Christmas Eve 2007, is expected to stand trial his case is on hold while the state Supreme Court decides whether to weigh in.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The trial of one of two people accused of killing six members of a Carnation family on Christmas Eve 2007 is on hold while the state Supreme Court decides whether to consider a judge’s order that bars prosecutors from seeking the death penalty.

The delay in the trial of Joseph McEnroe will add to King County’s mounting costs to prosecute and defend the alleged killers, which is approaching $6 million.

Late last month, King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled that prosecutors could not seek the death penalty against McEnroe and co-defendant Michele Anderson, finding Prosecutor Dan Satterberg erroneously considered the strength of the state’s evidence against McEnroe and Anderson in deciding whether to seek the death penalty. Ramsdell ruled that prosecutors should only have weighed whether mitigating circumstances existed in the decision to seek the death penalty.

Satterberg’s office filed an appeal with the state Court of Appeals, which quickly kicked the case up to the state Supreme Court.

Last week, the state’s high court issued a stay in all court matters that could affect McEnroe’s and Anderson’s potential death sentences. A two-page email sent by Susan L. Carlson, Supreme Court deputy clerk, to the McEnroe and Anderson defense teams, the prosecution and the Court of Appeals, reads:

“Given the debatability (sic) of the superior court’s order, and the likelihood that the potential benefit to the state of this review would be lost unless a stay is entered, the superior court’s order is stayed pending further order of this Court, as are superior court proceedings that might be affected by the validity of the superior court’s order. This ruling applies to both Mr. McEnroe and Ms. Anderson.”

The King County Prosecutor’s Office said the Supreme Court has not said whether it will hear the case, but is asking for legal briefs from both sides this week. A decision on whether the justices will hear the case is not expected until next month, prosecutors said.

Satterberg said the Supremte Court’s order leaves the case “in a state of limbo.”

Kathryn Ross, one of the three defense lawyers representing McEnroe, said staying the case is “what usually happens” when the Supreme Court weighs whether to review a trial court’s order.

Some 3,000 jury summonses mailed out to prospective jurors in early January for McEnroe’s trial have been dismissed and the former Carnation man’s trial date has been put on hold, prosecutors said.

McEnroe, 34, was slated to be tried first.

According to the King County Office of Public Defense figures, as of late last month the county has spent more than $5.1 million defending McEnroe and Anderson since they were arrested. Prosecutors said last month that they’ve spent $725,000 on the case.

The amount is the largest spent by King County in prepping for a potential death-penalty case since Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway, according to prosecutors. Between 2001, when Ridgway was identified as a suspect in the serial killings, and 2003, when he pleaded guilty to dozens of counts of aggravated murder, the county spent nearly $12 million on the extensive investigation, as well as prosecution and defense, county officials said.

Ross has repeatedly said that McEnroe is willing to plead guilty to the murders in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table. The prosecution said that’s not an option.

Anderson, 34, and McEnroe, her former boyfriend, were arrested shortly after six members of Anderson’s family were found slain in her parents’ Carnation-area home. Killed were her parents, Wayne and Judy Anderson; her brother and his wife, Scott and Erica Anderson; and that couple’s children, 5-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Nathan.

The crimes were motivated by money, family strife and a concern over leaving behind witnesses, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

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

On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report

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