By Gene Johnson Associated Press
SEATTLE — A man convicted of slaughtering four members of a Kirkland family then trying to cover up the crime by burning down their house should be put to death, a jury ruled Wednesday.
Conner Schierman, 28, was convicted in King County Superior Court last month of four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of arson in the 2006 stabbing deaths of Olga Milkin, 28; her 5- and 3-year-old sons, Justin and Andrew; and Olga’s sister, Lyubov Botvina, a 24-year-old college student who lived at the house.
Aggravated murder is punishable in Washington only by death or by life in prison without release. After hearing testimony from the victims’ relatives as well as Schierman and his family, the same jury that convicted him determined he did not deserve leniency.
Schierman maintained throughout the trial that he awoke in the home covered in blood following a drunken blackout and didn’t know what had happened.
Olga Milkin’s husband and the father of the two boys, Washington National Guard Sgt. Leonid Milkin, was serving in Iraq when the killings occurred.
“Conner Schierman came in the middle of the night like a thief and stole my family from me,” Milkin said at a news conference. “I miss my family greatly. I won’t ever forget them.”
Milkin’s father and his mother- and sisters-in-law also spoke at the news conference in the King County Prosecutor’s Office. A dozen red roses and framed photos of the victims were placed on a table before the podium.
Defense attorney James Conroy said he was disappointed in the decision and would appeal Schierman’s conviction. He maintained that Schierman didn’t commit the crimes.
“I don’t know that anybody will ever know what happened,” Conroy said.
No clear motive emerged from the trial. Schierman had moved in across the street less than three weeks earlier, and deputy King County prosecutor Scott O’Toole said the attack might have been sexually driven. Olga Milkin was found naked and her sister was partially clothed, but the women’s bodies showed no sign of sexual assault.
During closing arguments Monday in the trial’s penalty phase, Schierman fought tears as he apologized to the victims.
“I know you don’t want to hear my words,” he said. “You want your family back.”
He asked the jury for mercy, “If not for me, then for those who love me.”
Schierman suggested he was sorry for the family’s loss, but did not acknowledge the killings or directly apologize for them — a fact that did not sit well with Vita Petrus, the third oldest of the five sisters in the Botvina clan.
“The least he could do is apologize,” Petrus said.
Moments after court adjourned Wednesday, bursts of loud laughter erupted from the jury room — a jarring sound in an otherwise somber courtroom. Relatives of Schierman and the Milkins had not yet left the courtroom and were well within earshot.
Conroy called the laughter “just sad” when a reporter told him about it, and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg suggested the jurors were decompressing. Jurors declined to speak with reporters.
“It’s an extraordinary thing we ask people to do,” Satterberg said of the jury’s role in death-penalty cases. “There are a lot of ways to relieve that pressure.”
O’Toole said after Schierman’s April 12 conviction that there was no evidence Schierman drank as much as he claimed that night. He said Schierman made a sexual comment about the women to his sister before the attack.
Conroy argued that Schierman’s blackout was real, someone else carried out the killings, and Schierman set fire to the home because he thought no one would believe his story.
Surveillance video from a nearby gas station showed Schierman buying gasoline just before the blaze was reported.