An emotional and teary-eyed 18-year-old Mountlake Terrace youth pleaded guilty to second-degree murder yesterday for pushing a Mill Creek youth to his death off a railroad trestle in Bothell Jan. 2.
In return, prosecutors said they will recommend an exceptionally low sentence of eight years for Brian Schrader, who said yesterday he pushed Michael Schuerhoff, 18, off the trestle on a dare from three others.
The standard range for second-degree murder is 10 to 14 years.
King County Superior Court Judge Steven Scott reminded Schrader that when he imposes a sentence he is not required to follow the recommendations of prosecutors. In fact, Scott said, the standard range is assumed to be the appropriate sentence unless it is proved otherwise.
Schuerhoff was a senior at Cascade High School in Everett when he died. Yesterday, his twin brother, Jason, and older brother, Todd, along with an aunt, his mother and another family member, were present in court. All except the two brothers were in tears and declined to talk to reporters.
Jason said he has found it difficult to get over Michael's death.
"It's been hard. I've been missing a lot of days (at school) as a result. We always did stuff together," he said.
In an interview afterward, King County Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Marchese said prosecutors were determined to stick to the second-degree murder charge in the death but are willing to consider some other factors in recommending the lighter sentence.
"It was very important to label the crime," Marchese said. Some lawyers initially had suggested Schuerhoff's death was a prank gone wrong, but Marchese rejected the notion.
"There's no such thing as `kids-will-be kids,' " she said.
In recommending the lighter-than-standard sentence for Schrader, prosecutors will note that he cooperated with police and that he was ``induced by others" to commit the crime, Marchese said.
Five youths initially were charged in January with second-degree murder in the incident.
In March, prosecutors dropped the charge against Tyler G. Wheaton, 17, of Edmonds, in exchange for his agreement to testify against the other four.
Wheaton pleaded guilty in Juvenile Court to rendering criminal assistance, and prosecutors will recommend a one-year sentence for him.
The other three, Lawrence R. Edinger, 17; Steven M. Garza, 16; and Benjamin A. Drake, 16, are scheduled for trial May 24.
In his guilty plea statement yesterday, Schrader said he pushed Schuerhoff on a dare from the others.
Schrader agreed to testify at their trials and to answer questions for defense and prosecution investigators before trial.
From the beginning, Marchese has conceded that the youths did not necessarily intend to kill Schuerhoff, but she noted that they definitely intended to assault him and then failed to rescue him when he cried for help after being pushed into the icy waters of the Sammamish Slough off the 36-foot-high trestle.
Prosecutors said the youths wanted to get rid of Schuerhoff and a friend of his so they could have sex with two girls they were with.