Verdict: Craigslist killer planned to murder

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2009 - 6:59 AM

Michael Anderson was found guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of Katherine Ann Olson.

A jury found Michael Anderson guilty Tuesday night of premeditated murder in the shooting of a Minneapolis woman he lured to his house in Savage through an ad on Craigslist.

District Judge Mary Theisen set sentencing for 10:30 a.m. today in Scott County District Court. The mandatory sentence for first-degree murder is life in prison. Theisen said she would invite relatives of the 24-year-old victim, Katherine Olson of Minneapolis, to give impact statements before the sentencing.

The jury of seven men and five women found Anderson, 20, guilty of first- and second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. They deliberated just five hours before returning verdicts about 9:30 p.m.

As the first-degree murder verdict was read, Olson's family members sighed, closed their eyes and embraced.

The victim's father, the Rev. Rolf Olson of Cottage Grove, said afterward that the family was "thankful" for the trial's outcome. But he added: "I'm just so sad we had to be here at all ... We felt this was the last act of parenting for our daughter."

Anderson showed no reaction, but his father closed his eyes at the sound of the guilty verdicts. He and his wife declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

"They have been through hell," lead defense attorney Alan Margoles said. "They have done what you expect parents to do, and that is stick by their kid." The prosecution depicted Andersonas a cold-hearted manipulator who killed Olson in October 2007 simply because he wanted to know what it felt like to take a life.

Jurors rejected the contention by defense attorneys that Anderson, who lived with his parents and never had a date, pretended online to be a woman named "Amy" in need of a babysitter only because he wanted sex or romance.

Margoles acknowledged that Anderson pulled a gun on Olson, perhaps when she tried to flee, but he argued that the gun went off accidentally.

Margoles said after the verdicts that one of the issues for the appeal -- all first-degree murder convictions are appealed automatically -- is expected to be Theisen's decision to not let the jury hear that defense psychiatrists found Anderson to have Asperger's disorder.

The defense contended that the disorder, a mild form of autism sometimes characterized by clumsiness and eccentric speech and behavior, would help the jury understand why Anderson placed the ad, and how he could have killed Olson accidentally.

"I think things would have been different if we had been allowed to bring Asperger's into this," Margoles said.

A week of testimony in the trial was followed Tuesday with five hours of closing arguments, with the prosecution emphasizing evidence that suggested Anderson shot Olson in the back because he was fascinated with or curious about killing.

"He brought her over because he wanted to know what it felt like," Chief Deputy County Attorney Ron Hocevar argued. "Well, he did."

Hocevar said the jury should find Anderson guilty of first-degree murder.

Margoles argued that Anderson lured Olson over with no clear idea why. He argued that when she tried to leave, Anderson, who had no experience with women, fell back on his video game experience and pulled his father's revolver on her.

Margoles asked jurors to consider that Anderson lives in an "unreal world."

"He's to tell a woman at gunpoint that he wants to be her boyfriend?" Margoles asked. "Demand sex? We don't know. All we know is that this is a bizarre kid with no social skills."

He said Anderson easily could have flinched while holding the loaded gun, or could have accidentally squeezed the trigger while grabbing at his dog with his other hand -- a phenomenon known as "sympathetic response," in which one hand squeezes in response to the other.

Margoles said prosecutors had not proved murder with premeditation or intent, and he said Anderson was guilty only of second-degree manslaughter.

Hocevar used a projector to again show jurors photos of Olson's body, on the medical examiner's table and also where police found her in the trunk of her car, her lifeless left hand clasping one of the curls of her hair.

Several of Olson's family members sniffled or sobbed quietly as the photos were shown.

"Katherine died in the trunk of her car alone, in the dark, with nothing to comfort her but the curls of her own hair, all because the defendant wanted to know 'what it felt like,'"Hocevar argued, echoing the words of one of Anderson's fellow jail inmates, who testified that Anderson cited that reason for the crime.

Hocevar emphasized that Anderson himself never claimed to police that the shooting was an accident; that explanation came only from his defense attorneys at the trial.

He ridiculed the defense contention that Anderson sought the meeting with Olson for sex or romance, then clumsily killed her by mistake.

"Not once did he say [to police] he tripped over a box," Hocevar argued. "Not once did he say he tripped over a dog. Not once did he say he wanted to have sex. Not once did he say, 'I wanted a girl to come to my house; I just wanted to hold her hand.'"

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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