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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

June 25, 1996

Author: STEVE MILETICH, P-I Reporter

[]A King County Superior Court jury yesterday found Kenneth Westmark guilty of first-degree murder for killing his two young sons with car fumes.  The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated only about two hours before convicting Westmark, 43, of two counts of first-degree murder in the carbon-monoxide deaths Sept. 29, 1994, of his sons, Brandon, 2, and Ryan, 4, in the garage of their Bellevue home.Westmark also tried to kill himself at the same time, but survived after his wife found him and the boys.  Westmark bowed his head but displayed no emotion as the verdict was read in the packed courtroom of Superior Court Judge Patricia Aitken.

Sentencing was set for July 26.   Westmark faces at least 40 years in prison, said Deputy Prosecutor Michael Hogan, who handled the case.   Jury forewoman Lisa Hager said the jury accepted Hogan’s assertion that Westmark carefully planned the crime and took deliberate steps to carry it out.   Hager and another juror, Pat Shelan, said those steps included rolling down the car windows, strapping the children into their seats and getting in and out of the car before turning on the ignition.

“It showed deliberate, intentional action,” Hager said.   Westmark had 10 minutes to change his mind before the boys lost consciousness, Hager said, noting that the law requires only a moment in time to form premeditation.    Jurors agreed that Westmark was suffering from major depression at the time of the slayings, Hager said.    “But we decided that did not preclude responsibility for your actions,” she said.

Hager said jurors went through all the elements they needed to consider and that it quickly became apparent they agreed on the verdict.   “We talked about a lot of things and decided we would never know what the motive was,” she said.    Hogan told the jury in closing arguments yesterday that Westmark carried out the crime to strike back at his wife, Leanne, because of the couple’s marital problems.

“The key to understanding suicide is to understand who is supposed to find the body,” he said.

Westmark loved himself more than his boys and used them as “pawns” against his wife, Hogan said.   “He chose to kill his kids,” Hogan said.  “He chose the method that was most palatable to him.”

Defense attorney John Henry Browne, citing Westmark’s history of psychiatric problems, asked the jury in closing arguments to acquit his client because he was suffering from major depression and severe mental illness that diminished his capacity to comprehend what he was doing.

“It basically drives you crazy,” Browne said, recalling the testimony of medical experts who said Westmark was suffering from a potentially fatal form of major depression.

Jurors heard testimony during the two-week trial that Westmark had visited doctors and taken anti-depressants for many years.  Browne didn’t argue that Westmark was legally insane, but that his ability to comprehend his actions was clouded by his mental state.   Westmark’s mental illness wasn’t fully appreciated by those around him because Americans society ignores psychiatric problems and expects people to “buck up,” Browne said.

Westmark took the stand during the trial, but said he couldn’t remember the day the boys died because of a stroke he suffered in the attempted suicide.   Medical experts testified that the stroke has impaired Westmark’s short-term memory.   Browne said after the verdict that he was disappointed and concerned that serious mental illness is not understood.

“I think emotion had a lot to do with it,” he said of the verdict.   Hager and Shelan said jurors understood the mental-illness claim but rejected it.   Hogan said he was pleased for Westmark’s former wife, Leanne Ursino, who divorced him after the boys were killed and resumed using her maiden name.

Ursino, who sat through the entire trial, said the verdict was “exactly what I wanted to hear.”   She said the convictions allow her to close a chapter in her life and now fully mourn the death of her sons.    “It’s left for me to start all over again, unfortunately without the responsibility of children,” she said.

Referring to her boys, Ursino said,  “They’re in the most perfect place I know. And I will be with them someday. And Kenneth Westmark will never have that opportunity.”    Ursino and her large, close-knit family wept and hugged after the verdict was read.

Westmark’s mother and other family members sobbed and the left the courthouse without talking to reporters.   Hager, the jury forewoman, said the case was sad for everyone involved.

“It was a tragedy before we were ever involved,” she said, referring to the jury.

Of Westmark, she said,   “He’s a pathetic creature now.”

Record Number:  9606250040