EVERETT — Michael Skay was 16 when he committed the murder that sent him to prison for what was expected to be the rest of his life.
Now 36, the inmate recently began moving down a path that could one day win him a chance to walk free.
In December 1995, Skay joined Steven Eggers, then 19, in beating and robbing Blair Scott. They bound the Snohomish man, 27, with wire. They stuffed him into the trunk of his own car.
They then drove to the Skykomish River near Monroe, where Scott was thrown in and left to drown. Eggers was wearing the dead man’s boots and still driving his car when he was arrested a few days later.
Skay, who’d had plenty of scrapes with the law as a juvenile offender, was automatically treated as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime. He was tried along with Eggers. A Snohomish County Superior Court jury found the young killers guilty of aggravated first-degree murder. Each faced life in prison without possibility of release — then the mandatory minimum sentence for that crime under Washington law.
“This punishment does meet this crime,” then-judge Ronald Castleberry said in 1996 when he sentenced Skay to spend his life behind bars.
But in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juvenile killers violate the Eighth Amendments’ prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Legislators responded by amending Washington’s law in 2014. Now, anyone who commits aggravated murder between the ages of 16 and 18 must be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years behind bars. They still can face life without parole, but only after a judge individually considers the circumstances of their life and the case.
A state legislative report from 2014 said there are 27 Washington inmates who, like Skay, were sentenced to life without parole for killings committed when they were under 18. They now appear eligible to be resentenced.
The Snohomish County Public Defender Association has since 2102 been pursuing the legal work necessary to seek resentencing for Skay.
In March, the state Court of Appeals signed an order remanding the case for a resentencing hearing. That was scheduled for January after action last week in Superior Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court case that gave Skay this chance involved two teenaged defendants who were sentenced in Alabama and Arkansas to mandatory life terms. They committed murders at 14 that involved robberies, assault and arson. Their automatic life sentences were unconstitutional because they failed to take into account the offenders’ youth and how the punishment they received compared to other defendants charged with similar offenses, the high court ruled.
Skay is now locked up at Stafford Creek Corrections Center on the Washington coast. Before that, he served 17 years of his sentence in Oregon prisons under an inmate swapping program.
Skay’s resentencing hearing is expected to present information about the crime, the victim and the offender.
Deputy prosecutor Kathy Webber said that because of the high court’s 2012 ruling one focus of the resentencing hearing will include Skay’s personal circumstances at the time of the offense.
Skay was represented at trial by longtime Everett defense attorney Max Harrison. At sentencing, he made a record about his client’s troubled life and acknowledged that the information could not affect the then mandatory sentence.
Skay’s father was in prison when he was young and his mother struggled with alcohol abuse and domestic violence. He was living with her in Florida when her boyfriend stabbed her to death in a parking lot. He then moved to Washington.
“If it can be said someone has been programmed to end up in a room like this, in a situation like this, it would be Michael Skay,” Harrison said at the 1996 sentencing.
Scott encountered his killers when he agreed to buy them beer and then accompanied them to a drinking party.
He had been in the Navy for six years, serving on the deck of an aircraft carrier. He was a veteran of both Desert Shield and Desert Storm. At his killers’ sentencing, Scott’s family described him as an outgoing person whose act of friendship was betrayed.