After a week of deliberation, eleven jurors yesterday finally persuaded a lone holdout to find Steven Sherer guilty of first-degree murder in the 10-year-old disappearance of his wife.
Sherer shouted an obscenity at his sobbing mother-in-law , Judy Hagel, as she kissed a tattered photo of her dead daughter, Jami, when the verdict was read. They were the first words Sherer uttered the entire monthlong trial in King County Superior Court in Seattle.
"How do you go to prison for something you didn't do?" Sherer bellowed as jailers handcuffed him. "When Jami does turn up, you can all rot in . . . hell. . . You guys got your scapegoat."
Yesterday's verdict makes Sherer, 38, one of only a handful of people in Washington state history to be convicted of murder when a body has not been found.
After the defendant's outburst, Superior Court Judge Anthony Wartnik ordered his bail be increased to $5 million, from $1 million. A sentencing date hasn't been set, but Sherer's lengthy criminal record means he faces a prison term of between 22 1/2 and 32 years. And prosecutors said they may seek an exceptional sentence of even more time.
"Now you see what he's like," Hagel said after Sherer's outburst. "My little girl deserves to get a little something out of this, and now she's got it. We're so happy to have justice for Jami."
Tired and frazzled, jurors said 11 members of the panel voted to convict Sherer by the end of the first day of deliberations, last Friday. But one juror held out until late yesterday, they said.
"At the beginning, most of us thought this would be very tough to prove because there's no body," said juror Laura Karlinsey, a Seattle graphics designer.
"But there was just a huge amount of evidence. Most of it, taken by itself, wasn't all that convincing. But when you took the aggregate of it all, it was really compelling."
Sherer's mother, Sharon Schielke of Mill Creek, wept and declined comment as she hurried from the courtroom with her husband and Sherer's two sisters, who also testified during the trial.
Sherer's attorney, Peter Mair of Seattle, promised an appeal and excused his client's outburst.
"He's upset, and why wouldn't he be?" Mair said. "He maintains he didn't do it. He's always said he didn't do it. I don't think they had a legally sufficient case and he shouldn't have been charged at all."
But the jurors agreed that the circumstantial evidence told the story of Jami Sherer's death at the hands of her husband.
"There was a huge amount of evidence," said juror Timothy Counts of Seattle. "Just because you don't have a dead body and a knife or a rope, that doesn't matter. What's that really going to prove anyway? All the evidence showed that (Sherer) was obsessed with (Jami)."
Meantime, jurors remained on good terms, despite the lone holdout, they said.
"There's absolutely no animosity whatsoever," Counts said. "I think the one juror forced us through the process. We looked at everything twice."
Yesterday, the holdout, Shirley Snyder of Federal Way, said she was exhausted from the deliberations. But she said she was reassured she'd made the right decision as soon as Sherer erupted in court.
"It certainly didn't make me sorry I had changed my mind," she said.
Jami Sherer, a Microsoft employee and mother, vanished Sept. 30, 1990, after calling her mother to say she'd be right over after she made a quick stop at a Taco Time in Redmond. That was the last anyone heard from her.
Police at the time suspected Sherer, searching his Redmond home and collecting evidence from his wife's abandoned sports car, found days later. But with no body, no blood and no other tangible physical evidence, they didn't conclude there was a murder case to solve.
Three Redmond police detectives, Lt. Jim Taylor, Mike Faddis and Greg Mains, reopened the missing-persons case three years ago. After years of work, prosecutors filed a first-degree murder charge in January, and police arrested Sherer.
"This supports all the efforts of the department, and I have to take my hat off to Mains and Faddis," Taylor said yesterday.
The detectives remained modest. "I'm just thankful the jury saw the truth," Mains said. "You saw the real Steve come out today. We're very happy that a very dangerous man will be locked up."
During the monthlong trial, prosecutors portrayed Sherer as a control freak who essentially imprisoned his wife through a cycle of domestic violence.
Prosecution witnesses said Sherer constantly tracked his wife's every movement, phoning her every few minutes, and anyone else who knew her, whenever she was out of his sight.
So it was odd, prosecutors said, that suddenly, the day Jami Sherer disappeared, Steven Sherer didn't call anyone for hours. That's when, prosecutors contended, Sherer was disposing of the body.
But Sherer's lawyers said all the so-called evidence pointed to plenty of suspicion but no proof of murder.
They presented witnesses, including his mother, who explained his supposedly suspicious behavior as mundane and unremarkable.
They consistently argued that another man was just as likely a suspect as Sherer. That man, who now lives in Idaho, sold drugs to Sherer, took part in three-way sex with the Sherers, and spent the night with Jami Sherer the day before she died, the lawyers said.
When the verdict arrived yesterday, the tension in the courtroom grew as the jurors filed in but then had to retreat back to the jury room to finalize some paperwork.
As Jami Sherer's mother clutched a friend, and Steven Sherer's mother sat tensely behind her, one juror looked at Judy Hagel, beamed and nodded, suggesting that the verdict would go against Sherer.
"I feel so glad that this is finally some form of resolution," lead Deputy Prosecutor Marilyn Brenneman said. "This family needs to grieve, and this gives them an opportunity to grieve."
Until the verdict was read, Hagel said, she had kept the details of the investigation from the Sherers' child, Tyler, now 12, who lives with the Hagels in Bellevue.
But yesterday, as Hagel held an emotional impromptu news conference, flanked by her three sons and their families, she doubted Tyler would be surprised by the verdict.
"I told him one day that it didn't look too good for his father, that it looked like he might have done some bad things to his mother and he said to me, `Well, did you just figure that out, Grandma?' "
Hagel said that every year on Mother's Day, she and the boy plant another rose bush in a portion of the yard they've dedicated to his mother and her daughter.
"Justice was a long time coming and we're so happy to have it," she said.
Seattle Times staff reporters Louis T. Corsaletti and Christine Clarridge contributed to this report.
Key dates in the Steven Sherer murder case:
Sept. 30, 1990: Jami Sherer disappears around noon after phoning her mother, presumably from her Redmond home, saying she'd be by to visit after a quick trip to a Taco Time restaurant.
1991: With no promising leads or any physical evidence of a murder, Redmond police detectives effectively close the Jami Sherer case.
January 1997: Redmond police detective squad, now headed by Lt. Jim Taylor, officially reopens the Jami Sherer case.
May 12, 1997: King County Medical Examiner's Office pronounces Jami Sherer legally dead.
Jan. 8, 2000: Redmond police arrest Jami Sherer's husband, Steven, a day after King County prosecutors file a first-degree murder charge.
May 2000: Steven Sherer goes on trial for first-degree murder. Testimony lasts a month.
June 8, 2000: Jury Steven Sherer of killing his wife.