Sherer appeals murder conviction in wife's death

Nobody is disputing that Steven Sherer was possessive and controlling. He told his wife, Jami, that he would kill her if she ever was unfaithful.

But whether the threat was enough to convict him of murder when she mysteriously disappeared in 1990 is once again a question before the courts.

Sherer, who is serving a 60-year sentence in the Washington State Penitentiary near Walla Walla, has asked the state Court of Appeals in Seattle to overturn his June 2000 conviction for murdering his wife. It's one of the few cases ever in the state in which a defendant was convicted of murder even though a body was never found.

Jami Sherer disappeared Sept. 30, 1990, when she was 26, leaving behind a 2-year-old son and a job at Microsoft. Family members and friends have said they have not heard from her since.

Yesterday, Steven Sherer's attorney, Lenell Nussbaum, told three appellate judges that the state had presented insufficient evidence to convict him of premeditated murder and had failed to follow up on a second suspect.

The appeals court is expected to issue a written decision within several months.

"There are many families in which domestic violence occurs but there is no murder," Nussbaum said.

Steven Sherer's prior violence toward his wife merely "filled in the gaps" when the state had no evidence, she said.

For murder cases in which a body has not been recovered, Nussbaum said a specific criminal act must be tied to the death. She said there is no such evidence in Sherer's case.

"In our society, people do vanish for years, without motivation, with no good explanation. It does happen," Nussbaum said. "When the years went by, her family wanted an explanation and somebody to blame."

Nussbaum argued that there was little evidence presented during Sherer's trial about how or where the killing occurred.

Marilyn Brenneman, a King County deputy prosecutor, said the state's responsibility was to prove that Steven Sherer had intended to kill his wife and did kill his wife, not to prove how.

"Jami disappeared from the face of the Earth just after she told Steven she was leaving him," Brenneman said. "The defendant had motive; he had a history."

The night before she disappeared, Jami Sherer told her husband that she was having an affair. She had arranged to move in with her parents and had called her mother the next afternoon to say she'd be right over.

Other circumstantial evidence presented in the trial included a bloodhound dog which indicated that Steven Sherer was the last person to drive his wife's car before it was found abandoned in Shoreline; and a dirty shovel inside Steven Sherer's truck, which was splattered with mud the day after Jami Sherer disappeared. Prosecutors have speculated that Jami Sherer was buried in woods.

The jury said the amount of evidence against Sherer, now 40, was overwhelming.

Police suspected Steven Sherer immediately after the disappearance. But with no body and no blood, they couldn't even prove there was a murder case to solve. Three Redmond police detectives reopened the case five years ago. Based on their work, prosecutors filed charges in January 2000.

The second suspect was the man with whom Jami Sherer was having an affair. Prosecutors said he had a good alibi. Nussbaum pointed out that he was an alleged drug dealer who had been convicted of domestic violence against his own wife.

The Sherers' son is now 14. He lives with Judy Hagel, Jami's mother, who was in court yesterday listening to the same arguments she remembers hearing before. She later said she still feels the case is unresolved and is so distraught, she often finds herself waiting for Jami to turn up alive.

"The biggest thing is Jami's son: There's no grave for him to go to, no place to visit," Hagel said. "There's no remembering his mother."

Michael Ko can be reached at 206- 515-5653 or