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Judge sentences former Bellevue man to death for killing family

Left, Conner Schierman is led from the courtroom on May 27. Right, The Milkin and Botvina families walk together through the King County Court House. - Kevin Opsahl photo
Left, Conner Schierman is led from the courtroom on May 27. Right, The Milkin and Botvina families walk together through the King County Court House.
— image credit: Kevin Opsahl photo

Four years after a Kirkland family was killed, it all came down to one moment for Leonid Milkin: The chance for him to address Conner Schierman face-to-face, the man condemned to death by a jury for brutally taking the lives of his wife, his two boys and sister-in-law.

On that warm summer night on July 17, 2006, Schierman, formerly of Bellevue, packed a flashlight, gloves, hunting knife and axe before he walked from his duplex to his neighbor's home across Slater Avenue where Olga Milkin, 28; her sons, Justin, 5 and Andrew, 3; and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, lived. He entered the home and stabbed the family to death, almost completely severing one of the boys’ heads.

The next morning, he drove to a nearby AM/PM gas station to pick up gasoline and returned to burn down the house.

Milkin’s only regret, he has said, is not being there to protect his family from their killer while he was stationed with the National Guard in Baghdad.

“It’s been a very long time,” Milkin told Schierman at the hearing on May 27. “I’m wondering what kind of a person would kill innocent women and children. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about what will happen to you in this life, but I'd be definitely concerned about the afterlife - what will happen next.”

Since the jury unanimously voted on May 5, King County Superior Court Judge Gregory Canova was required to follow their decision and formally impose the death penalty. Schierman was found guilty on four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of arson on April 12.

Judge Canova said little at the hearing, only stating that he agreed with the verdict. For the arson charge, Schierman was to serve 27 months in King County Correctional center, but will get credit for those; under Washington state law, Schierman must be transferred to the state penitentiary within 10 days of being sentenced to death.

The hearing took place in a much larger courtroom in Superior court on the ninth-floor, not Judge Canova’s chambers as they did in the five month-long trial. An unshaven Schierman was led out of the jail freight elevator in “high security inmate” clothes and entered the chambers after walking down a hallway that was sealed off to spectators.

Schierman spoke at the hearing, acknowledging that it may take decades before he is actually put to death.

Schierman also took issue with the death penalty, saying that it’s hard to know just how many people who are on death row are innocent of the crimes they’ve been charged with. He said that killing him would just be “adding one more death to this tragedy.”

Schierman's attorney, Jim Conroy, said he would move to appeal the death penalty verdict. Another attorney will handle that case, which goes directly to the state Supreme Court.

Schierman is the first person since 2001 to come to the state’s death row, where he will join eight other men.

At a family press conference May 5 when the verdict was announced, Vita Petrus, the sister of Olga and Lyubov, said their Christian faith told them it was not right for them to hold a grudge against Schierman. She said the family has forgiven him.

But they were upset when the convicted felon failed to offer an apology for his actions, and in that sense, the death penalty was the right call made by the jury, they told reporters.

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