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Thursday, June 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Murderer convicted of arson conspiracy

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

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It took a Walla Walla County jury less than two hours yesterday to convict a former Redmond man of conspiring with a cellmate to burn down the Bellevue home where his mother-in-law and teenage son live.

Jury selection and opening statements in Steven Sherer's trial on a charge of first-degree solicitation to commit arson began Monday; the jury returned a guilty verdict just before 2 p.m. yesterday, said King County prosecutors' spokesman Dan Donohoe.

In a rare twist, Sherer informed the court yesterday morning that he no longer wanted to participate in his trial and waived his right to be present for the jury's verdict, said King County deputy prosecutor Matt Lapin.

After Sherer asked for and was granted a venue change in December because of concerns he couldn't get a fair trial here, Lapin was given special deputy prosecutor status so he could try the case against Sherer in Walla Walla County.

Sherer, who was convicted in 2000 of murdering his wife, is expected to face a life sentence because yesterday's verdict is his third conviction under the state's three-strikes or persistent-offender law, Lapin said. His sentencing is tentatively scheduled for July 6.

Ten years after his wife, Jami Sherer, disappeared from the couple's Redmond home, Sherer, 42, was sentenced in July 2000 to 60 years in prison for killing her, though her body was never found. In 1987, Sherer was convicted of felony assault in Snohomish County.

In May 2003, Sherer was charged by King County prosecutors with conspiracy to commit arson. The charge was based on information police began gathering in December 2001.

Sherer, out of a desire for retribution, tried to orchestrate the deaths of his mother-in-law, his son, the King County deputy prosecutor who tried his case and her children, along with witnesses who testified against him in his murder trial, court documents say. He enlisted the help of his former cellmate at the state prison in Walla Walla to carry out his plan.

During the trial, jurors listened to four recorded phone conversations between Sherer and his former cellmate — who was cooperating with police — and heard Sherer describe where the cellmate could find jewelry hidden under Sherer's mother's house as payment for the arson, Lapin said. Jurors also got to hear testimony from the cellmate, he said.

Even though Sherer now faces a life sentence, his latest conviction won't make much difference in the time he spends behind bars. "His earliest release date (prior to yesterday's verdict) is 2054," said Lapin, pointing out the chances of Sherer living into his 90s in prison are slim.

"Still, we had to send a message," Lapin said. "Just because you're in prison doesn't mean we're not going to prosecute you, even if you're already serving a long sentence."

Defense attorney Gail Siemers could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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