Brian Schrader was sentenced yesterday to 20 years in prison for pushing an 18-year-old Mill Creek youth to his death off an abandoned railroad trestle into the Sammamish River.
Prosecutors said his motivation was to win a bet of $30 and some marijuana.
In imposing the sentence, King County Superior Court Judge Steven Scott called Schrader's actions a ``callous disregard for human life" and said the community and court were in no mood to express compassion for him.
Schrader, 18, was convicted of second-degree murder for pushing Michael Schuerhoff off the trestle in Bothell on Jan. 2, 1996. Schuerhoff drowned, and his body was recovered three days later.
In a taped confession heard by the jury, Schrader admitted he pushed Schuerhoff off the trestle to win the $30 bet and some marijuana.
Probably the most compelling reason to give Schrader a stiff sentence was the ``disregard by you and the others (with Schrader) of Michael Schuerhoff's cries for help" after he landed in the river 36 feet below the bridge, Scott said.
The judge added that he found ``totally inadequate" their excuses that they were scared to help because Schuerhoff might be angry and retaliate, and because they thought he would be OK.
The three others were acquitted by Scott in a juvenile court trial in July in Schuerhoff's death. At their trial, the youths said it was Schrader's idea to push Schuerhoff from the trestle and that they didn't think he would actually do it.
Until yesterday, Scott said, Schrader hadn't shown any remorse or feelings toward the Schuerhoff family, whose members have suffered through ``a horrible ordeal."
Schrader broke into tears and apologized to the Schuerhoff family just before he was sentenced. He said he never meant to hurt Michael Schuerhoff and that he takes full responsibility for what happened.
Schrader also said he pushed Schuerhoff off the trestle at a place where he thought it would be safe.
Schrader said he hopes the Schuerhoff family and his own family will forgive him ``or at least know that what happened wasn't on purpose."
In short, emotional remarks before the sentencing, Anita Schuerhoff, Michael's mother, told the judge that ``we don't have Michael in our lives anymore. We will have to sit through holidays without him" and not have any grandchildren from him.
``Maybe it was a split-second decision at the moment (pushing him off trestle), but it ruined hundreds of lives."
Jason Schuerhoff, Michael's twin brother, was choked up with tears when he spoke to the judge. He said that Schrader ``deserves whatever he gets, and what he gets won't ever be enough."
Peter Schuerhoff, Michael's father, said, ``We shall forever miss Michael." He said they wanted Schrader never to have contact with his family.
Scott did order Schrader never to have contact with the Schuerhoff family.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Marchese said because of Schrader's prior convictions for burglary and assault, the sentencing range for him was 16 years to more than 21 years. She requested a sentence at the high end of the range.
Schrader originally pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case in exchange for a sentence of eight years. But he withdrew his plea and refused to testify in the trial of the three others who were with him the night Schuerhoff died.
Schrader is now a hero to his friends, because they got off, Marchese added.
Jeff Smith, Schrader's attorney, asked for a 10-year sentence. He contended during the trial that there wasn't any bet and it was just a lot of talk by Schrader and his friends.
Smith told the judge that Schrader was induced by the others to push Schuerhoff from the trestle. ``He doesn't feel like a hero" because he didn't testify at their trial, Smith said.
But Scott said Schrader was ``predisposed" to commit the crime and wasn't induced by the others.
Sally Schrader broke into quiet sobs in the courtroom when her son was sentenced. She ran down the hall to catch her son as corrections officers, followed by news cameras, escorted him back to jail.
Another youth, Tyler Wheaton, 18, who was with Schrader and the other three, saw Schrader push Schuerhoff from the trestle. He testified for the prosecution at Schrader's trial after making a deal to plead guilty to rendering criminal assistance.
Civil case to come this fall
The train trestle over the Sammamish Slough, from which Michael Schuerhoff was pushed to his death. A yellow ribbon hangs from the trestle.
by Jeff Switzer
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."