Three teens acquitted in Bothell trestle death
by Jeff Switzer
Family members were shocked at the verdict as the three teens charged with manslaughter for their part in the drowning death of 18-year-old Michael Schuerhoff were acquitted in juvenile court last week.
King County Superior Court Judge Steven Scott decided that Benjamin Drake and Steven Garza, both 16, and Lawrence Edinger, 17, did not believe their bets of cash and drugs would lead Brian Schrader to push Schuerhoff off the Bothell trestle, where he fell 36 feet and drowned in the Sammamish River on Jan. 2.
Schuerhoff's twin brother, Jason, cried out in anger and frustration as the verdict was read, and was then consoled by his family.
Schuerhoff would have been 19 on March 29, and was a senior at Cascade High School in the Everett School District.
Drake faced a possible 21 to 28 weeks in detention; Garza, 40 to 48 weeks; and Edinger, 30 to 40 weeks. All have been released from custody.
Although they were acquitted, Judge Scott said the boys have a "moral responsibility and an opportunity to learn from this experience."
Prosecutors had reduced the charges against Drake, Garza, and Edinger from second-degree murder to first-degree manslaughter, to which they pleaded not guilty.
The prosecutors said they felt the culpability of these three was considered more reckless than intentional. The reduced charge meant the teens faced a range of 20 to 50 weeks in juvenile detention rather than the 10 to 14 years they could have gotten if tried as adults.
Schrader, accused of Schuerhoff's fatal push, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights at the trial of Garza, Drake, and Edinger, opting not to give testimony according to the agreement with the prosecutors.
Now 18, Schrader has also hired a new attorney and has indicated it is his intention to withdraw his guilty plea, though there has not yet been a motion in court to do so.
The prosecution went with Tyler Wheaton's testimony at the trial. Wheaton, who did not participate in the betting, pleaded guilty to first-degree rendering of criminal assistance for his role, agreeing to testify against Garza, Drake, and Edinger. Prosecutors are recommending a one-year exceptional sentence in juvenile detention.
Schrader pleaded guilty at the beginning of May to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against the others in the case in exchange for the prosecution's recommended eight-year sentence for the crime. The standard range for the offense is 10 to 14 years with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.
Dan Donohoe, spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, said that while the recommended eight-year sentence is below the standard range, the sentence does take into account the seriousness of the crime because the crime lacked intent to commit murder.