Teen charged in trestle death found guilty of murder
Civil case to come this fall
Thirteen months after the fatal night Michael Schuerhoff fell to his death from the Bothell trestle, a jury has determined that the man who pushed him is guilty of second-degree murder.
Brian Schrader, 18, faces a prison sentence ranging from 16 to 21 years. His sentencing is scheduled for Mar. 6 at 2:45 p.m. in Judge Scott's court. The prosecuting attorney said the verdict was fair and appropriate.
"The defense argued this was just a prank and an accident, but this was intentional and there was nothing accidental about it," said Lisa Marchese, King County senior deputy prosecuting attorney. "This wasn't a joke, this was an adult crime that deserves an adult punishment."
Marchese said they will be making a recommendation for the upper end of the sentencing range given "the egregious facts of the case" and Schrader's two prior felony adjudications of first-degree burglary and second-degree assault.
Jeff Smith, Schrader's attorney, said a number of areas in the case will be appealed to the state Supreme Court. Schrader's felony murder charge was inappropriate because Schuerhoff was not injured in the fall, but drowned later, he said.
"We're disappointed, obviously," Smith said.
"(Schrader) certainly never intended to kill or even hurt (Schuerhoff), but because the way the case was charged, that wasn't the key issue."
Smith felt the jury should have been instructed to consider lesser charges. "The way the law is, the type of intent you had in your head at the time is less the issue," he added, arguing that the murder charge reflects a death from second-degree assault, a crime of which Schrader was not guilty, Smith said.
The 18-year-old Schuerhoff fell three-and-a-half stories into the winter waters of the Sammamish River on Jan. 2, 1996, after going there with two women and five men.
Three teens were acquitted of manslaughter, and another, Tyler Wheaton, pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance in juvenile court in exchange for a reduced sentence, lowered from second-degree murder. Wheaton testified against Schrader in the case.
The prosecution relied in part on a taped confession, in which Schrader admitted he pushed Schuerhoff on a bet from the other teens after all had reportedly smoked marijuana. The bet included $30 cash and a "10-sack" of pot.
Schuerhoff family sues teens
The civil case against Schrader, Wheaton, Edinger, Drake, and Garza, the five teens present when Schuerhoff was pushed, is still in the discovery phase with a trial date scheduled for this November.
"All of the kids who were involved have been sued," said William Marler, attorney representing Peter and Anita Schuerhoff, Michael's parents. Marler has subpoenaed all the records from Bothell and King County and plans to take depositions during the next four weeks. A stay was placed on some discovery because of the criminal trial.
But documents in Marler's possession already show the history of problems surrounding the trestle, including vandalism, kids diving from the trestle in the summer, late night parties with alcohol on the trestle, and fencing around the trestle consistently destroyed.
Marler said Schrader's push was wrongful and intentional, and the teens egging him on should have rescued him when they heard he was in the water.
"Their failure to act was negligence," Marler said.
Marler said the family has not yet brought the City of Bothell or King County into the lawsuit, and do not intend to bring Bothell in. However, the decision regarding King County has not yet been made.
"It's an open question on King County," he added. "It's the county's trestle, and they had lots of warning of problems out there.