Monday hearing set in bid to dismiss murder charges
August 04th 2006
Seattle Times Articles
A King County Superior Court judge set a hearing for Monday on a motion to dismiss arson and four aggravated-murder charges against Conner Schierman. Schierman appeared in court Thursday on the motion filed by his defense attorney, James Conroy, but Judge Gregory Canova postponed any decision until after another hearing Monday. Conroy has argued that a fair trial would be impossible because Kirkland police inadvertently released investigation notes to Seattle’s KING-TV.
He also asked the court to seal the documents, but Canova refused to do that until the Monday hearing. Canova also is expected to rule on a defense request for more time to prepare documents on why prosecutors should not seek the death penalty against Schierman. The law provides 30 days to file the report. Conroy is asking for five months, and would include information about Schierman’s social history and family background.
Schierman is accused of killing his neighbor Olga Milkin; her sister, Lyubov Botvina, and Milkin’s two small boys, Justin and Andrew, on July 17 and then setting their Kirkland house on fire.
Conner pleads not guilty in deaths of four
August 01st 2006
Man pleads not guilty in deaths of four members of Kirkland family. The man accused of stabbing to death a family of four and then burning their Kirkland home to hide the crime pleaded not guilty Monday to four charges of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of arson.
At the hearing, Conner Schierman’s defense attorney requested a five-month extension to the 30-day window during which King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng must decide whether to seek the death penalty for Schierman, 24, who is being held in lieu of $10 million bail.
A judge could decide as early as today whether to extend the deadline. Schierman is accused of killing Olga Milkin, 28; her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24; and Milkin’s two sons, Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3. Investigators discovered the bodies of the four, who had been stabbed or slashed to death, after a blazing fire was put out at the Milkin home July 17.
The slayings occurred about two weeks after Schierman had moved into a home across the street from the Milkins. Police say Schierman told them he drank 2-½ bottles of vodka, blacked out and then awoke in the victims’ bloody home to find the bodies of the women and children.
According to court documents, Schierman then purchased gasoline from a nearby convenience store, doused the home and set it on fire. James Conroy, Schierman’s attorney, made a motion Monday to have the charges dismissed, alleging governmental misconduct because the Kirkland Police Department last week accidentally released about 300 pages of the case file, much of it evidence and discovery documents, to a local television station.
In his motion, Conroy wrote that the release was a “concerted and protracted effort by the news media, with the obvious and purposeful assistance of the state of Washington and the Kirkland Police Department, to try the case and convict Conner Schierman in the press before he was ever able to enter his initial plea.”
In his response, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott O’Toole said that KING-TV, which obtained the documents through a public-information request, removed from its Web site the story and related photographs that referred to the documents and agreed not to run any more stories based on the material in the discovery.
He also said much of the information mentioned in the media was properly released in public documents days before KING-TV obtained the discovery evidence. Today or Wednesday, according to the attorneys, a judge will consider both the death-penalty issue and the request to dismiss the charges. Besides death, the only sentence possible for aggravated first-degree murder is life in prison without parole. Maleng said last week that he would look, among other things, for “so-called mitigating factors within the life of the defendant” as well as possible motives when deciding whether to seek capital punishment.
Another factor likely to be taken into account is something called proportionality, said Janet Ainsworth, a Seattle University law professor who teaches criminal procedure.This is the comparison of the current crime to other cases in which prosecutors have, or have not, pursued the death penalty. In King County, the leading litmus test in recent years has been the case of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway. Prosecutors first sought death in that case, but they eventually agreed to give up capital punishment in exchange for Ridgway’s cooperation in closing unsolved slayings.
Ridgway pleaded guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder in 2003. Since then, lawyers around the state have argued that it’s fundamentally unfair for prosecutors to attempt to seek the death penalty against their clients when such a prolific killer as Ridgway was spared. “Some of these types of cases have become more politicized” in response to the Ridgway outcome, Ainsworth said. “The Ridgway case was a deeply troubling one, because of the magnitude of the crime. Most other crimes, no matter how horrific, are not going to approach the magnitude simply because of the number of victims.”
Conroy said he wants extra time in order to prepare a mitigation packet that would lay out his arguments against capital punishment. He said Monday that he will argue proportionality. “It should be harder to pursue a case because of Ridgway. That’s what we hope will save the day,” he said. Schierman’s social and family history also could be factors, Conroy said.
After Monday’s hearing, Milkin’s husband, Army Sgt. Leonid Milkin, expressed his sorrow and outrage at the crime, which he called a “monstrous act.”
Schierman’s family and friends also attended the hearing. They have declined to speak publicly.
Conner pleads not guilty
July 31st 2006
Man charged in four Kirkland slayings pleads not guilty. The man accused of stabbing to death a family of four and then burning their Kirkland home to hide the crime pleaded not guilty this morning to four charges of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of arson.
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng now has 30 days to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Conner Schierman, 24, who is being held on $10 million bail. Schierman told police he drank two and a half bottles of vodka before blacking out and then awakening inside his neighbors’ home July 17 to the dead bodies of Olga Milkin, 28, her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, and Milkin’s two sons, Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3.
According to court documents, Schierman then purchased gasoline from a nearby convenience store, doused the home and set it on fire. Schierman’s attorney this morning asked the court for more time to argue against capital punishment; a judge is reviewing that request.
After this morning’s King County Superior Court hearing, Milkin’s husband, Army Sgt. Leonid Milkin, expressed sorrow and outrage at the crime but said he would ultimately support the prosecution’s approach to the case. “I will accept whatever the authorities will decide in this case,” he said. Schierman’s family and friends also attended the hearing.
Kiros News Article
July 27th 2006
Bail was set at four million dollars yesterday for the man accused of killing four members of a Kirkland family and setting their home on fire. King County prosecutors say they plan to file aggravated murder charges Monday against 24-year-old Conner Michael Schierman.
A King County deputy prosecutor, Scott O’Toole, says Schierman admitted waking up in the house after an alcoholic black-out, covered in blood. O’Toole says Schierman also admitted setting fire to the house. But he says no motive has yet been determined, and no decision has been made yet about whether to seek the death penalty.
Yesterday also was the day National Guard Sergeant Leonid Milkin arrived back from Iraq to see his burned-out home, where his wife and two children and sister-in-law were killed on Monday. The dead are Milkin’s 28-year-old wife, Olga, their sons Justin and Andrew, ages five and three, and Olga’s 24-year-old sister. Autopsies determined all four died from neck wounds.
The attorney for Schierman says his client has no criminal history. The attorney, Jim Conroy, declined to discuss specifics of the case but said his client (quote) “has no involvement in the criminal justice system whatsoever.'’ Schierman has been working for the past year and a half doing maintenance for Carillon Properties, an upscale collection of offices, shops, a hotel and a marina on Lake Washington.
Carillon general manager Barbara Leland says Schierman was a good worker, who had no problems on the job and was liked by co-workers. Residents of a house for recovering alcohol and drug abusers told reporters that Schierman had lived there until recently, and he reportedly wrote about his troubles on his myspace-dot-com Web page, which has since been taken down.
The memorial service for four family members killed in their home is scheduled for Sunday in Kirkland (at 3:30 p-m at The City Church, 90411 132nd Avenue, Northeast). The bodies were found Monday after a fire that authorities say was set to cover up the crime. Prosecutors say a 24-year-old neighbor will be charged Monday with aggravated murder charges. The dead are 28-year-old Olga Milkin, her five-year-old son Justin, her three-year-old son Andrew, and her 24-year-old sister, Lyubov Botvina.
The Kirkland Police Department has set up a tip-line for anyone who has information on this case.
Kirkland police gave TV station slaying files by mistake
July 26th 2006
The Kirkland Police Department said Tuesday it mistakenly turned over to a Seattle television station about 300 pages of confidential investigation files related to last week’s fire at a home in which the bodies of four people were found.
The files included police reports, notes and other documents, along with photographs and videotapes of the suspect in the killings, Conner Schierman, who has been charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of arson in the July 17 deaths.
Defense attorneys called the release of the information outrageous but said it ultimately would have little bearing on the case. The materials were turned over to KING-TV in response to a public-disclosure request, said Kirkland Police Lt. Bradley Gilmore, who took responsibility for the error. KING-TV used the materials in its Monday night and Tuesday morning news reports, with a reporter on camera holding what he described as 300 pages of materials provided by the department.
Gilmore, who is the department’s public-information officer, said KING-TV agreed Tuesday to stop broadcasting reports based on the materials and had returned the materials to police. Gilmore said the implications of the disclosure are unknown, and Kirkland police are meeting with the King County Prosecutor’s Office to discuss how it will affect the case.
The Prosecutor’s Office had no comment Tuesday on the disclosure. KING-TV acknowledged that the materials were given to it by mistake but said it routinely files disclosure requests in investigations. Pat Costello, executive news director, said the station was surprised at the volume of material it received. He said he explained to police that it was impossible to pretend the disclosure never took place. “I told them we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. “In this case, we got a lot of material,” he said. “They felt they had mistakenly released some of this.”
Costello said the station had returned the original materials. Costello said the station was not broadcasting any information it thought might jeopardize the prosecution. “We try to take the high road,” he said. Still, Costello added that he never had seen a case where hundreds of pages of evidence were released. Most media-information controversies involve things like leaks from unnamed sources, he said.
“It’s new territory for us as well,” he said. According to state law, materials involved in an active police investigation are not subject to public disclosure. The news broadcast showed what were described as photographs police took of Schierman at his arrest, including some showing what appeared to be cuts on his face.
Also released were videotapes the station aired that appeared to show Schierman buying cans of gasoline at a convenience store about a half-hour before the fire was reported at 11:32 a.m. on July 17. Olga Milkin, Lyubov Botvina, and Milkin’s two small boys, Justin and Andrew, were stabbed multiple times before the fire was set, police said.
No motive has been given for the killings. Gilmore said a five-day deadline for a response to the KING-TV disclosure request was approaching and he granted the disclosure. “I made a mistake, and it shouldn’t have happened.”
By Tuesday, other news organizations, including The Seattle Times, made their own disclosure requests to Kirkland police. Gilmore said those requests were under review. Schierman’s attorney, James Conroy, said he finds the incident amazing and inappropriate but doesn’t think it alone could result in his client’s acquittal. “It’s a very sad commentary to the extent my client has been tried and convicted in the press,” Conroy said.
Conroy said part of his amazement comes from the fact that he has not been able to get access to the police materials himself. “I haven’t received one page of discovery.” Courts normally set up formal schedules specifying when such items as documents and photographs have to be provided to attorneys.
Conroy said to have the materials turned over to a third party and then broadcast is something he’s never encountered. Conroy said he doubted a court would seriously consider a request for dismissal of the charges on the basis of the disclosures, although he said he would expect to bring the matter to a court’s attention.
Other attorneys also doubted whether the disclosure might allow Schierman to go free. Richard Hansen, a Seattle criminal-defense attorney, said he couldn’t remember a similar situation, but the disclosure is unlikely to result in Schierman’s freedom. “Mostly, it will restrict his right to get a fair trial,” he said, and such questions as where the broadcast was made and whom it reached will be part of the court proceedings. “All of which, in the end, is not going to matter,” said Hansen, because of the magnitude of the charges.
“It’s outrageous that they did it,” he added, “and what it’s doing to the victims’ families.” Hansen added that it still probably would be possible to seat an impartial jury with members who never saw the broadcasts.
Murder, arson charges filed in Kirkland slayings
July 25th 2006
A man accused of stabbing to death a family of four and then burning their Kirkland home to hide the crime has been charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder, which could bring the death penalty.
Police say 24-year-old Conner Michael Schierman told them he drank 2-3? bottles of vodka, blacked out and then awoke in the victims’ home the morning of July 17 to find the bodies of two women and two young children. But in announcing the charges Monday, King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng said there was evidence the slayings were premeditated.
He declined to elaborate and said his office would take up to 30 days to decide whether to seek the death penalty in the case. The only other sentence possible for aggravated first-degree murder is life in prison without parole. Schierman, who is being held on $10 million bail, is to be arraigned Monday.
He also is charged with first-degree arson for the fire that destroyed the family’s home at 9540 Slater Ave. N.E. Maleng’s voice cracked as he called the killings “one of the most horrific and outrageous cases” in the county’s history. “The enormity of the loss is beyond human understanding. … We’re all left with a heavy heart,” Maleng said during a news conference.
Among other things, Maleng said he would look for “so-called mitigating factors within the life of the defendant” as well as possible motives when deciding whether to seek capital punishment. When asked if Schierman’s blackout claim could be a mitigating factor, Maleng would say only that he was planning “a careful review.”
Schierman’s attorney, James Conroy, did not return calls seeking comment Monday. New court documents provide more detail of what police think happened in the hours leading up to the fire that destroyed the home in a quiet Kirkland neighborhood.
Once firefighters had doused the blaze they discovered the bodies of 28-year-old Olga Milkin, her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, and Milkin’s two sons, 5-year-old Justin and 3-year-old Andrew. The victims all died from wounds inflicted by a knife, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.
According to court documents, Schierman said that after a night of drinking vodka he awoke from an alcohol-induced blackout to the bloody scene in the victims’ home. Detectives say he took a shower and changed into clothes he found in the home.
He then drove to a nearby convenience store where he purchased two 1-gallon containers that he filled with gasoline, the documents say. Video from a convenience-store surveillance camera shows him filling two gas containers less than half an hour before the fire was reported, according to the documents.
Schierman returned to the home and doused the interior as well as the bodies with gasoline and set them ablaze, the documents say. Investigators said they also found a hunting knife believed to be the murder weapon in the victims’ home.
Two witnesses told police they saw a man matching Schierman’s description walking away from the victims’ home carrying what appeared to be a red gasoline can, charging papers say.
The killings occurred just weeks after Schierman moved in across the street from the family of National Guard Sgt. Leonid Milkin. There has been no information released about whether Schierman had any contact with the victims before the day they died.
The last time King County prosecutors sought the death penalty against a defendant was after the arrest of Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway. But Ridgway pleaded guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder in 2003 after prosecutors agreed to stop seeking the death penalty in exchange for his cooperation in closing unsolved slayings.
Since then, lawyers around the state have argued that it’s fundamentally unfair for prosecutors to attempt to seek the death penalty against their clients when such a prolific killer as Ridgway was spared.
Yelena Shidlovsky, Olga Milkin’s sister, said Monday that her family would meet to discuss whether they favored the death penalty in Schierman’s case. “We have not discussed at all that issue,” she said. This report includes information from Seattle Times Eastside bureau reporter Peyton Whitely. Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704
Slain Seattle women, Kirkland family honored
July 24th 2006
In vast outpourings of support, thousands of friends and relatives of two different families shared their memories and grief at separate memorials Sunday. In Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, crowds filled a high-school gymnasium to remember Mary Cooper and her daughter Susanna Stodden.
In Kirkland’s Rose Hill neighborhood, a church filled to overflowing to honor Olga Milkin, her two young sons, Justin and Andrew, and her sister Lyubov Botvina. The six lives were lost in crimes that stunned people across the region with their violence. Mother and daughter David Stodden remembered how every Sunday morning, his wife, Mary Cooper, would go for a jog while he rode his bike. They would meet up at their favorite coffee shop afterward, poring over The New York Times and discussing liberal politics.
Teacher Teresa Swanson remembered how Cooper would brighten her morning by stopping to chat on her way to the library at the Seattle elementary school where both worked. Catie Light remembered how her roommate of three years, the petite Susanna Stodden, couldn’t quite reach the kitchen light switch, but hiked tall peaks with ease.
Those were among the many memories shared with more than 1,500 people who packed the Ballard High School gymnasium Sunday to remember Cooper and Stodden, the mother and daughter who were fatally shot while hiking toward Pinnacle Lake in Snohomish County on July 11.
No mention was made of the brutal backwoods shootings that ended the two lives. Rather, the service was upbeat, with mourners laughing as they shared stories and photos of the two women. Authorities have yet to identify a suspect, and few details about the investigation have been released.
Cooper’s husband thanked the crowd for honoring his wife and daughter. He praised his two younger daughters, Elisa and Joanna Stodden, for “reminding me of the thousands of good things they did that far outweigh this one bad thing” that befell them. Two sign-language interpreters translated the service, which was heavily attended by members of the deaf community whom Cooper taught earlier in her career, before becoming a librarian at Seattle’s Alternative Elementary II (AEII) school.
Hundreds of students also attended. Elisa and Joanna Stodden together shared many lessons they had learned from their mother and sister. From their mother, the two daughters learned “that TV insults women, and being able to recognize that is worth a chocolate chip” and from their older and shorter sister: “Size doesn’t correlate to power.”
Norman Lee, Susanna Stodden’s boyfriend, remembered the couple’s first date, which started at a Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale and ended up outdoors, which many remembered was her favorite place to be. Mary Cooper’s younger sister Nancy shared excerpts from Cooper’s two autobiographies one Cooper wrote in sixth grade and the other just before she graduated from high school in 1968.
Mary Cooper wrote that she was proud of the many things she had learned from her father, but “most of all, to be independent.” In her earlier memoir, she bragged about finishing the second-grade reader while still in kindergarten an early indicator, Nancy Cooper said, of her sister’s future career as a librarian and educator.
Libby Sinclair, a Seattle teacher who worked with Cooper at AEII, told mourners that the mother of three taught “history, bravery, empathy and compassion.”She, like her daughter, was a card-carrying optimist and truly believed the goodness of people would eventually prevail over evil,” Sinclair said. “I believe it, too.”
“Hearts torn in two” From across the region and from across cultures, more than 2,200 gathered at The City Church in Kirkland to honor a young family of four slain last week in their Kirkland home. Services were conducted in Russian and English at what church officials said was the largest memorial they’ve seen since the church moved to Kirkland nine years ago. The sisters emigrated from Russia in 1993. “In our community this week, something unimaginable has happened,” City Church Pastor Jude Fouquier said as he stood before the caskets of Olga Milkin, 28, her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3, and her sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24. “Even though our hearts are torn in two, we come today to celebrate these mighty women of God and their children.”
A mile away, authorities were still investigating the charred remains of the Milkin home. Police have arrested a neighbor, 24-year-old Conner Schierman, on suspicion of four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of aggravated arson. Milkin’s husband, National Guard Sgt. Leonid Milkin, was deployed in Iraq when he learned of the deaths. He returned to Kirkland on Wednesday.
“I loved my family. They did not live in vain, and they did not die in vain,” Leonid Milkin said at the service. “The positive memories of them surpass the grief.” His mother, Tatiana Milkin, spoke in Russian. When an interpreter used the word daughter-in-law to describe Olga, she shouted out in English: “No, not daughter-in-law. She was my daughter.”
Pastors from several churches also spoke. Milkin and her children were members of The City Church and also attended Russian services at the Church of the Living God in Bothell. Botvina was active in the Christian Faith Center in Everett. There were lighter moments at the service as well.
The women’s sister, Vita Petrus, remembered that Botvina loved to change her personal style. “Every time she got a paycheck she got a different haircut,” Petrus joked. “Red, black, brown, brown with blond highlights.” But Botvina was also devoted to God, Petrus said, recalling that when Botvina lived with her for several months, she often stayed up late reading the Bible. And Petrus often heard her praying in her room.
Alla Botvina, sister and aunt of the victims, said she will always remember her nephews. “Justin would come to my apartment and bring me flowers. Every hour,” she said. The children “dug a hole into my heart, even though I thought I didn’t like kids.” Pastor John Petrus, brother-in-law of the deceased women, thanked all who came for their support. “We as a family choose to have the heart of Jesus Christ,” Petrus said. “The heart of forgiveness.”
Man charged with four counts of murder in Kirkland slayings
July 24th 2006
Seattle Times Articles
A Kirkland man accused of killing a woman, her sister and her two young sons before burning the family home down was charged this morning with four counts of aggravated murder and one count of first degree arson.
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, who announced the charges at a news conference, has 30 days from a July 31 arraignment to decide if he will seek the death penalty against Conner Schierman, 24. Schierman, who is being held on $10 million bail, said he awoke inside Olga Milkin’s home last Monday after having been in a drunken blackout.
He said he was covered in blood. Lyubov Botvina, 24, Milkin’s sister, was found slain in an upstairs bedroom of the home. Like her sister, Botvina had multiple stab wounds to “the upper body, neck and head,” according to court documents.
Schierman lived across the street from the home, has said he has no recollection of what happened. But a law-enforcement source said he had enough of his wits about him to shower off the blood, steal some clean clothing, douse the home with gasoline and set it ablaze to try to cover up the killings.
The killings occurred just weeks after Schierman moved in across the street from the family of National Guard Sgt. Leonid Milkin. Maleng choked up when he said that the horrific nature of the crime was compounded because Milkin was serving in Iraq when the crime occurred. “Sgt. Milkin put himself in harm’s way in service to his country,” Maleng said. “He had no reason to fear for the safety of his family back home in a peaceful neighborhood in Kirkland.”
Court documents say detectives found a hunting knife believed to be the murder weapon in the victims’ home. In addition, video from a surveillance camera at a nearby gas station shows him filling two gas containers before the fire was set, the documents say. Kirkland police said that a resident of the neighborhood, Sean Winter, became concerned when he heard that four people had died in the fire and Schierman didn’t answer his door. Winter thought perhaps Schierman had tried to save the family.
Winter let himself into Schierman’s house using a spare key and found Schierman lying on his bed, his face covered by a pillow. Schierman told Winter he wasn’t feeling well and kept the pillow over his face. Although investigators have declined to discuss to what extent the defendant knew the victims, Maleng said “There is compelling evidence of premeditation.”
He declined to elaborate. Maleng said he will give “serious consideration” to seeking the death penalty. He has 30 days to make that decision. Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Horror displaces the peace
July 23rd 2006
Four summers ago, it was young girls. Samantha Runnion in California. Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City. Alexis Patterson in Milwaukee. All were kidnapped and raped. And, with the exception of Smart, all were murdered. This summer, it is women and their children. Murdered. No exceptions.
On July 11, Mary Cooper, 56, and her daughter Susanna Stoddard, 27, were found dead on a trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Each had been shot. No arrests have been made. And last week, officials investigating a Kirkland house fire found the bodies of Olga Milkin, 28; her sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3; along with Milkin’s sister, Lyubov Botvina, 24, in the bedroom and hall. Three had been stabbed to death. The 3-year-old’s throat was cut.
On Thursday, Conner Schierman, 24, was booked on suspicion of murder. He told police he had suffered an alcohol-induced blackout. There’s more. A shootout in Skyway on Thursday morning left three people dead. A homeless woman was found stabbed to death July 11.
All violent, sudden deaths. But it is the mothers and children who stay with me. They were killed in their own home and on a peaceful trail. Nothing about these women hinted at a life amiss, at drugs or betrayal. Cooper was a beloved school librarian and passionate gardener. Stoddard was to begin a teaching-assistant position in the fall. She used to cover her eyes to avoid seeing violence on television. I shudder to think what she saw on the trail that morning.
Olga Milkin spent her days with her sons and sisters, waiting for her husband, Sgt. Leonid Milkin, to return from Iraq, where he was stationed with the Army National Guard. Schierman had moved into the neighborhood just two weeks before the killings. “The whole thing is just creepy,” said Mary Ellen Stone, the executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, which deals with crimes against women. “The reality is that there is some violent, random stuff in a whole different category.” I searched crime statistics for … something. Homicides dropped in King and Snohomish counties last year, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. King County saw 57 homicides in 2004; 55 in 2005. There were 19 homicides in Snohomish County in 2004; 14 in 2005.
Still, it feels higher. It feels closer. The unimaginable has moved in across the street, and found its way to where women and children seek peace. “I have been pretty amazed at how many things seem to be on the front page of the paper lately,” said David Stodden, Cooper’s husband and Susanna Stodden’s father. “It’s kind of like this happened because it could happen. We tried to raise really strong girls in our family and strong girls are going to do things because they’re strong.”
The key for the rest of us, he said, is to keep on doing things, be it at home or on the trails. “I’m just focusing on the positive things,” he said. “That feels like what I can do, and that feels pretty good.” Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bond among sisters, a means of support
July 22nd 2006
The five sisters in the Botvina family were inseparable. Since they immigrated to the United States from Russia with their parents, Leonid and Lyubov Botvina, in 1993, the girls saw each other through school, jobs, marriage and children, keeping in close contact several times a week, family members say.
Now they are supporting each other through the killings Monday of two of their sisters, Lyubov Botvina and Olga Milkin, and Milkin’s two small children, Justin and Andrew. Instead of celebrating Milkin’s birthday today, the family is preparing for a funeral Sunday. “I had five girls, and I had five grandsons,” said Lyubov Botvina, the matriarch of the family. “They were wonderful daughters. I lost a treasure in my life.”
Just a day before the slayings and fire at the Kirkland home, family members were all at Milkin’s house; the sisters stayed until late, chatting for hours just as they always have. “We shared everything we could between each other,” said Yelena Shidlovsky, 30, the oldest sister. “I am so thankful that God gave us such an opportunity to help each other and be close.”
Services for the family will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at The City Church, 9051 132nd Ave. N.E., Kirkland. The burial will follow.
A memorial fund has been set up by the family at U.S. Bank under the name “Kirkland House Fire Victims.” Also, the Washington Army National Guard set up a financial-assistance fund in Leonid Milkin’s name at the American Lake Credit Union in Camp Murray near Tacoma. The account number is 13743.
Milkin had been excited that her husband, Leonid, was to come home from Iraq in about six weeks. They also discussed Milkin’s upcoming birthday, Shidlovsky recalled. Milkin would have been 29 today. “She said: ‘Am I going to be 30? No I’ll be 29,’ ” Shidlovsky recalled. They all laughed that she couldn’t remember. “We said: You’re too young to forget how old you are,” Shidlovsky said.
The second youngest, Lyubov Botvina, 24, was staying with Milkin for the summer, helping her sister with the two boys. The younger Lyubov shared her mother’s name, which her mother said is unusual in her culture. After three daughters, the family hoped for a son. Someone told them that if they named their fourth daughter after the mother, the next child would be a boy. “But it didn’t happen,” the mother said because her youngest daughter, Alla, 21, came next.
The third-youngest daughter is Vita Petrus, 27. The mother’s namesake, known as Luba, was always studying and reading, dedicated to obtaining a linguistics degree at Seattle Pacific University where she was a sophomore.
She also worked as a Russian interpreter at local hospitals and was active in a youth group at the Christian Faith Center in Everett. “She spent so much time reading and studying. We would say, ‘Why don’t you go out and enjoy life?’ but she would say that she had a test or a midterm,” Shidlovsky recalled. Luba Botvina had a lot of friends from church but never dated, family members said. Whenever anyone asked why, she would say her priority was finishing her education, her mother said. But Luba Botvina found time to take her nephews on outings, like walks at Green Lake or roller-skating.
Milkin was always the first to volunteer to help someone in need, Shidlovsky said. “If they need to be comforted, she would be there. If it was urgent, she would say ‘I can do it’ and think of a way to arrange to do that,” Shidlovsky said.
The family marveled at how Milkin cared for her children while her husband was overseas for a year and a half. She worked as an orthodontist assistant and would arrange for a sitter when she had to work. But a month ago, Milkin quit her job to devote all her time to her kids, Shidlovsky said. “She felt her kids needed her. She was so excited to go biking in the morning and swimming in the afternoon. “And in the evening, she would find activities for them or read stories to the kids,” Shidlovsky recalled. “I’m a working mom, and I know what that means. I was so happy for her to actually input so much into her kids’ lives.”
Milkin was dedicated to her children’s education, said Mark Twain Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kelly Luiten, who taught Justin last school year. Milkin would call Luiten at least twice a week to make sure her son was doing well and making friends. She would often drop off big boxes of cookies to the classroom. “I had her phone number programmed in my cellphone and we would just talk,” Luiten said.
Justin Milkin, who would have turned 6 on Aug. 29, was one of the younger children in Luiten’s class, but he possessed one of the biggest personalities, his teacher said. He was funny. He always smiled. He was curious about everything. He loved to chase the girls. He loved to be chased, his teacher said. “Two of his best friends in class were little girls,” Luiten said.
Both boys were proud of their father’s service, teachers said. During spirit week at the school, the students were all told to dress in sports uniforms. Justin showed up in his father’s flak jacket from the National Guard, and he wore a beret and his father’s dog tags. “It was his idea,” Luiten said. “It was a hot day, and he wore it all day long.”
Pepper Snider, a teacher’s helper at the Lake Washington High School Little Roo’s preschool that Andrew Milkin attended, said the 3-year-old often pretended to be his father, showing off would-be muscles and doing push-ups. “He would say that his dad was away fighting the bad guys and talk about how he was scared that his dad was away,” Snider said.
The boys’ paternal uncle Danny Milkin often looked after the boys. The family said Andrew looked just like Danny Milkin when he was a boy. “I can’t take the fact that I will never see them again,” Danny Milkin said. “They’ve destroyed our family. They’ve ripped us apart.” The family was very religious. For the past year, Olga Milkin made a point to attend both an American and a Russian church.
Every Sunday she would attend morning service at The City Church in Kirkland and in the afternoon she would go to Russian services at the Church of the Living God in Bothell, Shidlovsky said. One day at school, a teacher told Luiten she had just witnessed something striking. The teacher saw Justin kneel down and make the sign of the cross, Luiten said. When she asked him what he had been doing, Justin replied: “I’m just talking to God.”
“There were 60 kids out there playing and he could have been wrapped up doing that, but he went off and found time to be by himself,” Luiten said. “He was young but he understood more beyond his years.”
Grieving Kirkland husband, dad recalls “so much love” in family
July 22nd 2006
Family and friends get Leonid Milkin through the day as he copes with the slayings of his wife, two boys and sister-in-law. But when he’s alone, he faces questions no one can answer about Monday’s grisly killings and arson at his Kirkland home.
Sometimes he feels like he’s in denial, he said Friday, a day after returning from duty in Iraq. “I don’t understand why this could happen,” said Milkin, 29, a sergeant in the Army National Guard. “It’s beyond my comprehension. Olga was so outgoing. My boys were so sweet. They never did anything to anyone.” And he asks himself the question everyone else is asking, too: “Why would someone do that?”
Police are looking for an answer. A suspect, Conner Schierman, 24, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of aggravated arson in the deaths of Olga Milkin, Lyubov Botvina, and the Milkins’ two small children, Justin and Andrew.
He is currently in King County Jail.
According to detectives, Schierman, who lives across the street from the Milkins’ Kirkland home, said he woke from a drunken blackout covered in blood in the house among the four bodies. The victims had suffered multiple stab wounds, police said. Police say Schierman then doused the home with gasoline and set it ablaze to cover up the killings.
His arraignment is at 1:30 p.m. Monday in King County Superior Court. Milkin said he saw violence while deployed in Iraq, but never thought it would hit his own family. “I expected those things to happen in Iraq,” Milkin said. “Never in my worst nightmare could I imagine something like this to happen in America, to my family.”
Milkin is a three-year veteran of the National Guard and had been serving in Iraq for the past 10 months. Before he left for Iraq, he and his wife agreed that they would remain strong, he said. “My wife realized that it needed to happen, that it was only for a year and a half,” Milkin said. “That it was a sacrifice worth doing.”
While he was away, he spoke with his wife on a daily basis as long as the international connection worked. They last spoke three days before the deaths. They were making plans for his return home in about six weeks. “We were talking about how I’m going to come back and what I will do,” he said. “Maybe go on vacation and just enjoy life. We were so excited. So ready to be together again.”
The couple met at a Pentecostal church and married seven years ago. They bought their 1914 Kirkland house three years ago and were fixing it up. Milkin said he sensed his wife’s caring personality the moment he met her the same moment he fell in love with her. “The moment I saw her I wanted her to be my wife,” Milkin said. “She had so much love, so much caring for everyone, not just for me. I haven’t seen that in anybody else.” Though juggling a job and two kids, Olga and her husband would often take time to be alone, family members said. They would get a sitter and go for a walk or to a car at night.
When they sat next to each other in a group, they often hugged or cuddled. “Some people say that marriage is a struggle, but they would just enjoy it. They were so romantic,” Olga’s sister Yelena Shidlovsky said. Milkin said he can still see his children running up to him during the day just to tell him they loved him. “It was like 10, 20 times a day,” he said. “There was so much love in our family.” His two sons were different from each other, Milkin said.
Justin, 5, was like his mother, creative and playful. He loved picking flowers for his mother, his grandmothers and his teacher. Andrew, 3, had a tiny voice and was more thoughtful, but he was also strong-willed, his father said. He always looked up to his older brother. “He’s very sweet; I call him my little sheep,” Leonid Milkin said, still using the present tense. They were so proud of his service in the military, he added.
“They always wore my uniform,” Milkin recalled. “They would salute me all the time.” Milkin said he wants to rebuild his home as a way to remember his family. “I want to honor her and the children and remember the beautiful moments I had with them,” he said. “I had the most wonderful time with them while they were with me on Earth. They blessed my life.”
“I could never imagine this could happen”
July 21st 2006
The National Guard sergeant whose family was slain in a Kirkland house spoke publicly about the tragedy for the first time today, saying he’s still grappling with why someone would do this to his family. Sgt. Leonid Milkin, 29, returned from military duty in Iraq Thursday after hearing the news that his wife Olga Milkin, 28, two sons Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3 and sister-in-law Lyubov Botvina, 24, were killed in a fire Monday.
While en route he was told that police had determined that the family had been slain before the fire was set. “I could never imagine this could happen. In Iraq I saw lots of violence,” Milkin said today. “I expected those things to happen in Iraq. Never in my worst nightmare could I imagine something like this to happen in America, to my family.”
Milkin, accompanied by family members, visited the heavily damaged home Thursday and again this morning. Milkin is still in the National Guard but will serve the rest of his duty in Washington. He said he last spoke to his wife on Friday, three days before the fire. He said they were making plans since he was due to return home in about six weeks.
“We were talking about how I’m going to come back and what I will do,” he said. “Maybe go on vacation and just enjoy life. We were so excited. So ready to be together again.”