Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Craigslist murder case drops "Asperger's defense"

From the Pioneer-Press in Minnesota:

In the fall of 2007, Michael John Anderson (pictured) posted 14 ads on

In all but two, he posed variously as a photographer, a producer and a mother named "Amy" looking for a baby sitter.

He was trolling for models, for women with sexy voices, for a sitter, his defense attorney said Monday.

"Sadly, horribly, Katherine Olson answered the baby-sitting ad," Alan Margoles said during the first day of Anderson's trial on charges of premeditated first-degree murder in Scott County. Anderson, 20, faces an additional charge of unintentional second-degree murder.

While the prosecution and defense agree Anderson caused Olson's death, the evidence and arguments presented over the next three to four weeks will center on whether he intended to kill the 24-year-old when she showed up at his Savage home for a job. The defense says there was no intent to kill and Anderson, albeit in a twisted way, was looking for romance.

The trial's first day saw the seating of the last of the 15 jurors, the opening statements and testimony from the Savage police officer who found Olson's discarded purse and from Nancy Olson, the victim's mother.

In his opening statement, Assistant Scott County Attorney Michael Groh took the jury through the events leading up to Olson's death — Anderson's posting of a ad for a baby sitter Oct. 22, 2007, and Olson, the bright St. Olaf College grad, showing up ready to sit for a fictional 5-year-old the morning of Oct. 25.

"There was no Amy, no little girl, and there was no job," Groh said, just Anderson with the .357 Magnum he used to shoot Olson in the back.

"He put her in an old sleeping bag," Groh said, and she "bled to death, alone, in the dark, in the trunk of her car."

The prosecutor told jurors investigators found Olson's body, a pearl from a piece of her jewelry clutched in her hand.

After a trail of e-mails and cell phone calls led police to Anderson, he initially denied involvement, Groh said. But he finally admitted he was present when Olson was killed, telling police "a friend thought it would be funny."

As Groh projected photos onto a screen — of Anderson's booking mug, Olson's body in the trunk of her car, her body on an autopsy table — Anderson's cheeks flushed.

One juror had to look away, as did many of the 35 spectators in the courtroom.

The evidence clearly showed Anderson killed Olson, Groh said. Investigators found her blood on the stairs and on a shoe at Anderson's home. His hairs were on her corpse. Ballistic evidence showed the bullet lodged in Olson's stomach muscles matched a bullet fired from Anderson's gun. Groh said Anderson's statements to other Scott County inmates about the killing — including "I'm famous, too. I'm the craigslist murderer," and "I just wanted to know what it felt like" — prove he killed her.

Defense attorney Alan Margoles agreed his client killed Olson. But Margoles told the jury the evidence didn't show intent — a necessary component to proving the first-degree murder charge beyond a reasonable doubt, he said.

"Yes, it was Mr. Anderson who took his father's revolver, loaded it, held it when it shot and fired and killed Ms. Olson," Margoles said.

But the issue is "not whether he shot her," he said, "but whether the prosecution has proven that he actually intended to kill her."

He urged the eight men and seven women in the jury box to weigh the facts of the case without becoming distracted by their emotions.

He said at the time of Olson's death, his client was "a dumb kid," not a criminal mastermind. Anderson cleaned up the crime scene to "the level an 8-year-old would do if he broke the cookie jar," Margoles said.

He painted Anderson as a sad, lonely teenager who never dated, never had a girlfriend, "never held a girl's hand."

His client was a gearhead who mainly used craigslist to find car parts, he said.

But that changed about Oct. 22, 2007, when he stopped concentrating on car parts and started using the Web site to troll for girls.

"Evidence will show he lured her to his house for sex or some odd concept of romance," Margoles said.

An earlier defense plan to lay part of the blame for Olson's death on Anderson's alleged Asperger's syndrome had to be dropped when Judge Mary Theisen denied the defense's motion to bring up the medical condition in court.

People with Asperger's syndrome exhibit autistic-like behavior and deficiencies in social and communication skills, and Margoles said it would help jurors to understand Anderson's flat, odd demeanor and potentially how he could have accidentally fired the gun.

The prosecution's first witness, Savage police officer Joe Suel, told the courtroom how he found Olson's purse and a bloody towel with Anderson's name printed on it in a Savage park. Wrapped inside the towel was Olson's shattered cell phone.

Suel said he talked with Olson's mother and learned that neither family nor friends had heard from her in 24 hours.

Suel and a Savage investigator called in a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter to search for Olson's car. The pilot spotted the gold Hyundai Elantra about a mile away in Burnsville's Rudy Kraemer Nature Preserve.

Suel said two agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrived and found her body, wrapped in a sleeping bag, in the trunk. He recognized Olson from the picture on her driver's license.

Nancy Olson, the prosecution's second witness, detailed her daughter's life: a top graduate of Park High School in Cottage Grove, a celebrated student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, a woman "with the whole world at her feet," she said. Babysitting was one of five jobs her daughter cobbled together while she spent a year figuring out where she would next go in life.

She said describing her daughter was like trying to describe Maria from "The Sound of Music," one of the last roles Olson played in the theater.

"It's like trying to describe a cloud," she said. Her daughter was exuberant, vivacious, quirky, intelligent and passionate.

"Two of her college professors named their children after her," she said. "In everything she did she was triumphant and wonderful."

The last time her mother saw her alive, she was singing on the Sunday before her death in the Richfield Lutheran Church choir, where Rolf Olson, Katherine Olson's father, is pastor.

It wasn't until Friday, when her oldest daughter, Sarah Olson, e-mailed that Katherine hadn't been seen in 24 hours that she realized something was wrong.

Nancy Olson called her husband twice. On the second call, she told him, "I think we have an emergency. Katherine is missing."

The next time she saw her daughter was "in a casket," the mother said, "cold and smelling of chemicals."

Olson's parents and aunt wore purple to the trial; it was Olson's favorite color, they said.