EVERETT — A former Snohomish man serving a life sentence for a murder committed when he was 16 learned Tuesday that he may one day go free, but not for another decade.
Michael Skay, 37, got the word after a day-long resentencing hearing in Snohomish County Superior Court.
It is clear that Skay is responsible for a “brutal, senseless murder,” Judge Linda Krese said, but evidence also suggests that his young age was a factor in his crime and there are reasons to believe he may one day be rehabilitated.
In keeping with changes in the law since Skay was locked away, the judge said it is appropriate for his life sentence to be set aside and a 32-year minimum imposed.
When Skay reaches that mark in about a decade, he’ll get the chance to convince the state Indeterminate Sentence Review Board that he’s ready for release.
Skay earlier in the day told the judge he is “truly, deeply sorry” for ending Blair Scott’s life more than 21 years ago, “but I’m not that 16-year-old kid anymore.”
The killing occurred in December 1995. Skay, then a middle school dropout with a serious drinking problem, was couch surfing in Snohomish.
His life to that point largely had been defined by serial dysfunction.
His father, known as “Big Mike,” was in prison when Skay was little. When they were reunited years later, the man became his teenage son’s drinking buddy, the court was told.
His mother, meanwhile, drifted through a string of relationships and also wrestled with alcohol.
Skay was living with her in Florida when she was fatally stabbed by her ex-boyfriend as she headed to work one morning.
That’s when Skay headed back west to Washington. He rejected the efforts adults made to provide him a home and to help him get an education. Instead he ran away to live on the streets.
One of the young people Skay began hanging around with was Steven Eggers, then 19, who’d recently moved from California to Arlington.
The older teen already had two felonies to his credit. Skay’s record, meanwhile, included arrests for assault, theft, burglary, driving while intoxicated and weapons violations.
Skay met Scott, 27, after the man agreed to buy some beer for a teen drinking party. The Snohomish man had recently been honorably discharged from the Navy, where he had served for six years on the deck of an aircraft carrier. He was a veteran of both Desert Shield and Desert Storm and known for his friendly, outgoing personality.
Skay and Eggers decided they wanted more than beer. They also wanted Scott’s car.
They beat and bound him with wire and stuffed him into the vehicle’s trunk. They then drove to the Skykomish River near Monroe, tossed Scott in and left him to drown.
Witnesses later told detectives how the pair exchanged “high-fives” once the deed was done.
Eggers was driving Scott’s car and wearing the dead man’s boots when he was arrested.
Skay went into hiding, and his surrender was arranged by an Everett attorney. When he met with detectives in an Everett parking garage, his last moment of freedom was spent pulling his Seattle Mariners baseball cap low over his eyes.
Under Washington law, Skay was automatically treated as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime. A Snohomish County jury in 1996 found both he and Eggers guilty of aggravated first-degree murder.
Then-Judge Ronald Castleberry presided over the Superior Court trial. Under Washington law, there was only one possible sentence for Skay: life in prison without possibility of release.
While it was true that Skay was young and he had a horrible start in life, “this punishment does meet this crime,” Castleberry said at the time.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 16 years later that such mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Washington’s law was amended in 2014 to reflect the high court’s ruling. Those who commit aggravated murder between the ages of 16 and 18 now face a minimum of 25 years behind bars. They still can face life without parole, but only after a judge considers the individual circumstances of the case and the defendant’s life.
The Snohomish County Public Defender Association worked for years to win Skay another chance. In March 2015 the state Court of Appeals signed an order remanding his case for resentencing.
Bill Jaquette, former director of the Snohomish County Public Defender Association, on Tuesday called three witnesses on Skay’s behalf. A mitigation specialist offered details of his troubled childhood. A forensic psychologist suggested that the 16-year-old Skay’s still-developing brain contributed to his impulsive behavior and poor decision making. Skay’s younger sister, Jennifer Carlson, also testified, urging the judge to give her brother a second chance.
She told Krese that she hopes her brother will live with her in California if he’s released. The two have exchanged countless letters and birthday and Christmas cards since he was sent to prison. She’s kept them all in shoeboxes.
She vowed to help Skay find a job and to teach him the skills he needs to eventually live on his own.
Jaquette urged a 25-year sentence for Skay, the minimum allowed under the law.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe told Krese that he approached Skay’s resentencing with an open mind. He pored over the case file and met with a number of people, including Skay’s sister, his attorney and Skay himself.
Scott’s family filled much of the courtroom. They wanted the original sentence to remain, Roe told the judge. He urged Krese to impose 50 years.
Skay engaged in acts of “planning, cruelty and extended brutality,” Roe said.
And it is clear that only in recent months has the convicted killer admitted the full extent of his involvement, Roe said.
At the hearing Tuesday, Roe carefully questioned witnesses called on Skay’s behalf.
They all acknowledged having been misled on key details about his role in the killing.
Krese said she was “more than bothered” to hear that Skay hasn’t been taking full responsibility for his crime.
She also said it was hard to reconcile how somebody who’d lost his own mother to murder could have visited that sort of pain on another family.
Diana Hefley contributed to this report.