Lawyer: Carnation killings suspect would plead guilty if no death penalty

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by ALLEN SCHAUFFLER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Updated Thursday, May 9 at 11:15 AM

Joseph McEnroe and his girlfriend Michele Anderson are accused of murdering six members of Anderson’s family, including her 6-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew.

Until a few weeks ago, with McEnroe’s trial about to get underway, the pair faced the death penalty. But a King County judge threw out the death penalty, ruling the prosecutor had made a legal error by considering the strength of the evidence before deciding to pursue capital punishment.

Now the case is in the hands of the State Supreme Court. Defense attorney Katie Ross presented the motion that led to the dismissal of the death penalty. The staunch death penalty opponent only grudgingly admits the ruling was a victory.

”I guess any time relief is granted when you ask for a motion, you can call it a win, so I guess in that sense it is,” Ross said.

Ross also said Joseph McEnroe has long been willing to plead guilty, but only if the death penalty is not on the table.

"That offer has been made since July of 2008,” she explained.

Now though, the trials are on hold as both sides wait for the Supreme Court to first review the Superior Court judge’s ruling, then issue a decision.

For Ross, the death sentence itself just doesn’t make sense.

Since the current Washington State capital punishment law took effect in 1981, she says, “34 people have actually been sentenced to death at trial, but only five have been executed and two of those have been executed against their will.”

The sentence of “life without possibility of release” is much more certain she contends, with people convicted of aggravated murder waiving their appeal rights.

“There are more than 300 people serving those sentences right now,” Ross said.

The recent ruling stunned prosecutors, who quickly appealed, and infuriated members of the Anderson family, who were lucky enough not to be at the Carnation home on Christmas Eve in 2007, when McEnroe and Anderson are accused for shooting and killing everyone inside.

Ross, working as hard as she can to keep her client from receiving the death penalty, has learned to take that in stride.

“I don’t begrudge them their anger at me or my client or anybody else. They are entitled to those feelings and its totally understandable,” she stated.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide in early March on whether to review the case. A final decision on whether Joseph McEnroe’s trial can proceed, with the death penalty in play, could come by the end of June.

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