The Washington state Supreme Court upheld the 2010 conviction and death penalty sentence of Conner Schierman, a former Bellevue and Kirkland resident, for quadruple murder and arson committed back in 2006.
In a 254-page opinion filed on the morning of April 12, the supreme court upheld the four counts of aggravated murder in the first degree and one count of arson in the first degree as well as the imposed death sentence. The vote was divided, with the death penalty upheld by a 6-3 majority and the convictions by a close 5-4 vote.
After a King County Superior Court jury found Schierman guilty back in 2010, the case was eventually appealed to the state Supreme Court, where it has lingered for the past three years.
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said that he is confident that the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “This is only the end of the first inning,” he said. “Now, we expect appeals to go into the federal system.”
Satterberg added that he thinks that the federal appeals process will likely take another ten years, adding to the over-a-decade-long court proceedings in the case. “It would be shocking if they were to drop all appeals, especially given the split in the state court,” he said. “We always assume that these cases will be appealed forever because it doesn’t cost the defendant anything.”
“It takes a very long time and the stakes are very high for everybody,” he added.
In the morning of July 17, 2006, firefighters and law enforcement responded to a fire at the home of Leonid and Olga Milkin, a married couple. After extinguishing the fire, they found the bodies of Olga, Olga’s sister, Lyubov Botvina, and Olga’s two sons Justin and Andrew—who were aged five and three. Autopsies revealed that all of the deceased had been stabbed before the fire was set. (Leonid Milkin was serving with the National Guard in Iraq at the time.)
Schierman contended that he was in a drunken blackout at the time of the murders, though he admitted to burning down the house, per the opinion. Investigators found Schierman’s DNA in the Malkin’s Kirkland home, and prosecutors argued that he burned down the home to cover up the crime.
“It was never a question in our mind that this man was guilty of killing,” said Satterberg. “We are grateful and relieved that the court so far has upheld that conviction.”
Following the 2010 conviction, Schierman was sent to death row.
Despite pursuing the death penalty in the Schierman case, Satterberg is a public critic of capital punishment. During the 2018 Washington state Legislative session, Satterberg testified in favor of a bill that would have repealed the death penalty in Washington state. The bill passed the state Senate, but never passed out of the House.
Back in 2014, Governor Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on capital punishment, temporarily sparing the eight inmates on death row from execution. The moratorium will last as long as Inslee is in office.
Satterberg said that while he thinks that the death penalty is ineffective and inefficient due to the length of time the cases take to play out, the financial cost they impose on the public, and the potential that a conviction will be overturned later on in the legal process, it is still legal in Washington state.
“I do have some personal and professional misgivings on it, but it’s not based on if it is unconstitutional or immoral but more that it doesn’t work,” he said.
Satterberg said that Milkin is intent on pursuing the death penalty, regardless of the prosecuting attorney’s misgivings concerning capital punishment. “I’ve told him my misgivings about it, but I don’t expect him to have the same perspective.”
According to a 2015 Seattle University study, the average death penalty case in Washington costs taxpayers roughly $3 million—over $1 million more than when the death penalty is not pursued by local prosecutors. (This figure includes trial and post-conviction incarceration costs.)