3.3 The Codefendants

3.2 Murder and Mitigation

Book Three / 3

On the first day of February at 11:00 a.m., Kristin Anders and John Mackey were scheduled to appear in our court for the first time.  Newspaper and television reporters had assembled in the empty jury box as they would for most of the pretrial hearings from that point forward.  They lined up in the available chairs and leaned forward slightly with their cameras and notebooks in hand, appearing like crows on a power line waiting for a ground level event of common interest.  They kept one eye on the door to the courtroom for entry of the defendants, and the other on the door to chambers for entry of the judge.

In addition to the media representatives maneuvering in the jury box as they jockeyed for position that morning, several attorneys arrived and began arranging themselves at counsel tables.  Each defendant had two public defenders.  Additionally, the State’s team was comprised of three deputy prosecutors at this early stage of the case, including one from the criminal appellate unit.  Their lead prosecutor was present for formal introduction of the matter on the record.

Rounding out the line-up of attorneys was the prosecutor assigned to represent the county’s jail facilities.  The defendants had moved the court for entry of an order allowing them to appear without handcuffs during all pretrial hearings.  Since this motion involved the internal procedures of the jail, their department’s attorney was appearing to represent its officers’ interests as well.

When all of the attorneys had arrived I called the jail for the transport of the defendants to the courtroom.  Their attorneys had asked me to ensure that each defendant was brought separately to prevent either of them from talking to the other en route.  They had also asked me to tell them as soon as the call was placed so they could meet their clients when the elevator doors opened.  They hoped to prevent either of the two from talking to the media.

Anders arrived in the courtroom first, flanked by her two attorneys and numerous officers from the jail.  She was dressed in street clothes rather than the white jail jumpsuit that ultra security inmates are required to wear.  At arraignment both defendants’ attorneys had argued successfully for their clients’ right to appear in street clothes for pretrial hearings given the prejudice they could experience upon frequent publication by the media of images showing them dressed in the jumpsuits.  As a result, Anders arrived in regular clothing, with the jail’s leg restraints binding her ankles.  A chain belt was secured around her waist, connected to handcuffs at each side.  She lowered into her seat after the guards freed her hands, and her attorneys took their places next to her, one at each side.


Kristen Anders was a contriving, manipulating defendant in court from the moment of her first appearance.  Being neither the little girl she often imitated in speech nor the mature adult she seemed to wish she had become, Anders arrived for her hearing looking every bit the thirty year-old woman accused of a startlingly savage crime.  She seemed a bit bewildered by the attention but prepared to assert her interests from the start.

Although a picture taken of Anders in high school showed a smiling, attractive young woman of average weight, even buff from the weights she’d been lifting at the time, more than ten years down the road she appeared on this day substantially overweight, sullen and suspicious.  The definition visible in her facial structure as a teenager had all but disappeared in her adult years.  Her face was now heavy and unattractive, with an upturned nose.  She wore her long, blond hair falling straight down each side of her head, partially concealing her face, and she sat with her eyes cast downward toward the table.  She would glance sideways at her two attorneys whenever they addressed her, and her dark eyes would flash with animation.  The character of these brief interactions gave early indications of the conflicts that would soon develop between the three of them.

Journalists and bloggers on the internet had already unearthed information on Anders and her family.  Much of the information seemed scattered and disjointed in its narrative presentation, as though the reporters themselves were developing the apparent dissociative identity for which Anders would become known to those who followed her case, observing her behavior.  The information ranged from stories of Anders as a talented artist, whose longest paid employment was as a face-painter of clown expressions at corporate events and birthday parties, to Anders’ attempts with her brother to start a small auto-painting business they had called “Pure Evil Customs.”

A few childhood acquaintances recalled that Anders had been shy and quirky, though very sweet as a teenager, artistic and imaginative.  She had complained to others of abuse at the hands of her father, an engineer at a large aerospace corporation.  She had also claimed to be the target of her mother’s animosity.  None of the reports, however, described her relationship with the older brother she was accused of killing as anything other than close and respectful, though rumors had surfaced of their financial feuds in recent years.

One former classmate of Anders in high school recalled that Anders’ brother was the only person Anders ever felt she could trust because together they had endured their parents’ abuse.  When this trust of her brother later dissolved, Anders apparently transferred her need for a single confidante to Mackey, a young man she had met online.  A neighbor in the trailer park where Anders and Mackey had lived before moving to Anders’ parents’ property remarked that the two were fearful and paranoid.  Claiming concern for their lives, they blackened the windows of their trailer, hid from their neighbors, and insisted that they could only trust one another.

The persistent mistrust and suspicion Anders had displayed for years would soon find a new target in her two public defenders.  At the hearing on this day, however, they sat next to her with their notes arranged on the table, prepared on her behalf to seek an extension of the deadline for the prosecutor’s decision on whether to pursue Anders’ own death for the murders she stood accused of committing.


With John Mackey’s arrival in the courtroom a few minutes later, any whispers that had continued after Anders’ arrival now subsided and the room grew still.  The officers secured Mackey at the table with his attorneys.  They then took up nearby positions designed for preventing the combined attempts of two ultra security inmates to disrupt the procedures of court.

In contrast to Anders, Mackey appeared thin and gaunt, with dark, straight hair and sharp, angular features.  His conduct and demeanor suggested that he’d been heavily medicated by jail physicians, more for his own depression perhaps than for any combativeness or lack of cooperation with the officers.  As he sat between his attorneys he gave few outward indications of his comprehension of the proceedings around him.  Not once did he turn his head toward the cameras or even away from them.  His awareness of the events appeared to stop about a foot away from his own body, at some self-constructed psychological boundary beyond which all the lights and voices and motions remained filtered by a thick, tranquilized fog.

Of the two, Mackey seemed the most frightened, saddened, and even remorseful at this early stage of the prosecution.  A newspaper reporter, who had spoken with him four days after the murders, had published Mackey’s apology for his involvement in the crime.  With regret now for having severed ties with his own family five years earlier, this same young man who had confessed to shooting three generations of his girlfriend’s family told the reporter that he was sorry his adopted family was gone now too.  He hoped they were at peace.

Mackey’s mother had described her oldest son to reporters as a sickly child, born with a congenital blood disorder, prone to chronic nosebleeds, and with a speech impediment he had developed as a child.  She made no mention of a father in Mackey’s life.  She described, however, how Mackey later defended his younger brother from the abuse of childhood peers who taunted him because he, too, had trouble with his speech.  As a young adult, his mother added, Mackey had retreated from the outer world first into books, then later to computer games and online communities.  From across the country he had met Anders through an internet dating service.  He moved to be with her, and to start his own family.

Only a few weeks following her initial appearance in our court that day, Anders would begin a public campaign through the media to fire her public defenders and seek the death penalty for her crimes.  Although she would insist repeatedly that Mackey wanted to die with her, in his interview with the reporter just days after the murders, Mackey had already begun to speak of the lessons he was learning from the culmination on Christmas Eve of his years with Kristen Anders.  “I was having a very hard time,” he explained, “but no matter how this turns out, I’m going to try and hold on.  I decided I’m going to try and stay alive.”


At the conclusion of the first hearing in our court that day the judge granted the defendants’ motion to extend the prosecutor’s deadline for deciding whether to seek the death penalty.  His decision would be the first of many deadlines set and broken in these cases.

It was February 1, 2008.  We had no reason to know that we would not begin trial for the first of the two co-defendants for another seven years.  We imagined ourselves pragmatic in our approach to the management of the cases, even a little optimistic.  Despite all the land mines inherent in death penalty prosecutions, we thought we could avoid most of them.  Our court would preside over the prosecution of the cases, we believed, then safely deliver the outcomes to the state’s Supreme Court for what would surely be a lengthy appellate review of all the procedures at trial.

3.4 A Line in the Sand