By KEVIN OPSAHL
In a packed, emotional courtroom Monday morning, a jury found Conner Schierman guilty of stabbing a Kirkland family to death nearly four years ago and burning down their home to hide the crime.
The verdict set the stage for a "penalty phase" beginning Thursday, where the same jury will determine whether he should receive life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
The jury deliberated for just under 9 hours to determine Schierman’s sentence after he was arrested for the July 17, 2006 killings of Olga Milkin, 28, of Kirkland; her sons, Justin, 5 and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24.
The King County Superior Courthouse was packed with family, military veterans, and Kirkland and Redmond fire and rescue personnel. The trial began in January.
As Schierman listened to the final verdict, he sat just a few feet from Olga’s husband Leonid Milkin, who was serving with the National Guard in Iraq at the time of the slayings. Milkin was smiling and seemed relaxed moments before the hearing commenced, but family members declined to comment.
“They’re doing remarkably well, it’s been three and a half years and they’ve come to terms with what’s happened and I think that the idea that justice has been served after three and a half years is very gratifying,” King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole told the Reporter after the verdict was read. “They want to see the process move to the end of the penalty phase … they have the faith and trust in the jury.”
The State v. Schierman case is the first death-penalty case heard in King County since 2001, when Dayva Cross was sentenced to death for killing his wife and two of her daughters in Snoqualmie in 1999, according to other news reports. The jury could not comment because of their involvement in the penalty phase.
Schierman, 28, did not testify when his defense council closed their case on April 5 after more than two weeks of testimony.
Defense attorney Jim Conroy made his remarks to reporters after the hearing, saying that he hopes the jury will “get to know” Schierman “by telling them about Conner as a person” in the penalty phase, but did not criticize the jury’s decision.
“We obviously disagree with the outcome,” Conroy said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Schierman's court-appointed attorney’s strategy to convince the jury of his innocence centered on a "voluntary intoxication" defense, the claim that the Bellevue native had an alcoholic blackout and woke from it to find himself covered in blood, surrounded by the dead. They suggested in closing arguments that a third party could have been involved in the incident.
Schierman later admitted he poured gasoline in and around the home, but could never give an explanation as to how the family was killed.
“If you didn’t know what you had done, wouldn’t you go, ‘oh my god! There’s a madman here … I’m getting out of town,’” Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole said to the jury in his closing statement last week.
Until his arrest, Schierman had no criminal record.
O’Toole was successful in making the state’s case that Schierman was guilty, bringing everyone from police to Schierman's roommates – and even Leonid Milkin himself - to the witness stand. Schierman was accused of entering the home, in the 9500 block of Slater Avenue Northeast, armed with two knives, firearms, gloves and an ax.
O’Toole also used evidence that linked the young man to the killings. Investigators recovered Schierman's DNA from several items found in the Milkin's home, including a pair of men's shorts, a pair of gloves and a knife the Leonid Milkin found in the ruble of the murder site. In addition, Olga's Milkin’s DNA was identified on Schierman's necklace he wore when he was arrested after the killing. DNA of both women was found on the soles of Schierman's shoes.
However, the prosecution could not establish a motive.
In all there were 67 state witnesses and 18 defense witnesses during the jury trial.