EVERETT — An Arlington man was sentenced Tuesday to 12¼ years behind bars for intentionally running over a man with his car, killing him.
Just before 10:30 p.m. June 28, 2019, Jesse Engerseth crashed his car into Michael Smith, 32, as Smith walked toward his car amid a series of bizarre confrontations.
Engerseth, now 24, was charged with second-degree murder and vehicular homicide. A jury deliberated for four days in late March before convicting him in Snohomish County Superior Court.
Smith, of Everett, was survived by two twin sons and a fiancée who was 8½ months pregnant.
Hours before he was killed, Smith was at his home in the 1400 block of Poplar Street, according to charging papers. He saw three people inside a parked silver Chevrolet Impala near his home around 4 p.m. and suspected they were using drugs. He walked up to the Chevy and told the occupants — later identified as Engerseth, his cousin and a female friend — to leave.
Engerseth dropped off his friend and drove a half-mile southwest to the 1700 block of McDougall Avenue, he reportedly told police.
He fell asleep in his car. He woke up to the loud revving of a Honda Civic’s engine. He suspected it was Smith, and drove back to Smith’s house to retaliate, according to the charges. Engerseth reported he threw an auto jack at the Honda and drove off.
The defendant parked in the 2200 block of 12th Street, around the corner from Smith’s home. He saw the Honda again in an alley about 30 feet in front of him. The Honda was parked sideways in a way that blocked the Chevy. Smith got out of the car carrying a stick, according to the charging papers, and approached the Chevy.
Engerseth accelerated, hit Smith and kept driving, prosecutors wrote. Witnesses reportedly told police the Chevy driver made no attempt to slow down before hitting the victim, nor did the driver stop to check on Smith.
Afterward the defendant went to a friend’s home. He told two people he’d hit someone with his car, and that the man was going to die, the charges say.
At his trial, Engerseth testified he was scared of being harmed that night, but he did not intend to hit Smith with his car. The jury found him guilty as charged.
Under state guidelines, Engerseth faced a range of 10¼ to 18⅓ years behind bars.
Defense attorney Kathryn Fraser asked the judge to hand down an exceptional sentence — a sentence outside of state standards — of five years in prison. Fraser argued the victim was also an aggressor, as he spent over 30 minutes that night “hunting down” Engerseth.
In a sentencing memorandum, the defense attorney argued “Mr. Engerseth committed the crime under duress, coercion, threat, or compulsion insufficient to constitute a complete defense but which significantly affected his conduct.”
Fraser also wrote that Engerseth’s ability to recognize the wrongfulness of his conduct “was significantly impaired by his youth, adolescent brain development and past trauma.”
Deputy prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence asked the judge to give the defendant 18⅓ years.
“He fled the scene of the crime,” Lawrence told the courtroom. “He did not stop the car. He did not call 911. He did not attempt to provide the victim any aid and showed little remorse for his actions.”
Lawrence argued he was mature enough to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. He had graduated high school and had a recent history of full-time employment, she noted.
Three of Smith’s family members held back tears as they took turns speaking Tuesday in court. Each tried to put into words the pain Smith’s death brought their family. They asked Superior Court Judge Anna Alexander to give Engerseth the maximum sentence.
The victim’s younger sister described how it felt to watch nurses and doctors remove the ventilation tubes from her brother’s body before he passed away at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
“I didn’t want to leave the room, I didn’t want to leave hospital, I didn’t want to leave him behind,” his sister Shuston Smith told the courtroom. “Leaving him that morning was the hardest thing I ever had to do, aside from taking him off of life support — that, and coming to this trial, seeing my brother’s killer and seeing his family support him all this time.”
Engerseth was the last person to address the judge Tuesday.
“I would like to apologize to the family for the heavy burden I’ve put upon you for this loss,” Engerseth said. “There are no words with enough depth to express how truly sorry I am. Although it was not intentional, it happened, and I’ll take responsibility for my actions.”
The defendant did not have a past felony record.
Judge Alexander ordered Engerseth to serve 12¼ years in prison.
“The sentence that the court must now impose cannot be based by reference to the tragic loss of human life,” Alexander told the courtroom. “It cannot be based on retribution, it cannot be based on anger, and no sentence in a courtroom by a judge can ever be a reflection of what value a human life holds.”
Smith’s son was born weeks after his father died. He was named after his father, Michael. Family members said three sons now don’t have a father, and they’re struggling with the loss already.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; email@example.com; Twitter: @reporterellen