It's another first in the life of Joe Mantle. Another first he wishes he never had to experience, but the 16-year-old has grown accustomed to them after spending a third of his life this way.
“I kind of don't have the luxury of it being any other way or knowing what it's like,” he said.
On Thursday, Mantle walked into the Washington Supreme Court for a hearing to determine whether two people he used to consider family should die for the deaths of six people he loved, including his sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece and nephew.
“Not at day goes by that I don't think of them,” he said on the steps of the Temple of Justice in Olympia.
Michele Anderson and her boyfriend, Joe McEnroe, have been charged with killing six members of Anderson's family on Christmas Eve 2007. As the case was preparing for trial, King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled the state overstepped its bounds in seeking the death penalty against the accused.
On Thursday, justices listened to arguments as to whether prosecutors should've used the overwhelming evidence against the defendants as reason to seek the death penalty. Their attorney says the law clearly states they cannot.
“How easy a crime is to prove doesn't have anything to do with how heinous the crime is, or how bad the defendant is,” said defense attorney Katie Ross. “Evidence determines guilt or innocence. It should have no bearing on whether someone gets the death penalty.”
It's unclear when the court will issue its ruling. It could take several weeks or even months.
The case has now cost taxpayers nearly $6 million and has dragged out for five and a half years.
Jury selection was set to take place in early February for McEnroe's trial, but the trial is on hold as prosecutors appeal Judge Ramsdell's ruling. Anderson’s trial has also been stayed pending the appeal.
For young Joe Mantle, that's almost as difficult as losing all those members of his family.
“It’s painful,” Mantle said. “This should've been done a long time ago.”
And the trial hasn't even begun.
That will be the next "first" in the life of this young man, still coming to grips with an unimaginable crime.
“I know that I'm never gonna see those people again. I always wonder what could've been, what should've been and what will never be,” Mantle said.