PORT ORCHARD — Twenty-eight years ago, Michael Monroe Furman was sentenced to die at Walla Walla State Penitentiary for the rape and murder of an 85-year-old Port Orchard woman.
On Nov. 6, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Sally F. Olsen will reduce his sentence to life with the possibility of parole.
Furman, who is now 46 and incarcerated at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, was two months short of his 18th birthday when he sexually assaulted and killed Ann Presler on April 27, 1989 in her home near Sedgwick Road. He was tried as an adult, convicted and sentenced to death.
Furman’s conviction was upheld by an appeals court and the state Supreme Court, but the high court also ruled in 1993 that statutes “cannot be construed to authorize imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by juveniles.” Forman’s sentence was reduced to life without parole. (The U.S. Supreme Court ruled later, in 2005, that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death, citing their immaturity and stage of brain development.)
This latest hearing is the result of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that, for juveniles, a sentence of life without parole constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that adolescence is marked by “transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences,” all factors that should mitigate the punishment received by juvenile defendants.
The Nov. 6 hearing “is to set a new minimum term of confinement for Mr. Furman,” Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chad Enright wrote in an email to Kitsap News Group. “The U.S. Supreme Court held that juvenile offenders cannot be given a sentence of life without the possibility of parole [in Miller vs. Alabama]. So, Mr. Furman will still be given a maximum term of life. But, the court must set a minimum term where he would be permitted to seek parole. The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the court cannot set a minimum term of life and juvenile offenders must receive an opportunity for parole.
“I’m not sure what his chances [for] parole will be. The court will only be setting the earliest possible time he could be released. It will be up to a parole board to determine if he ever actually gets released.”
The court will hear testimony from the original detective on the case, and hear statements from Presler’s family, Enright said. A doctor will testify about juvenile brain development, and Furman, who will be at the hearing, may make a statement, Enright said. Members of the Presler family will be there to speak as well.
Furman’s attorney is Steven M. Lewis from the Kitsap County Office of Public Defense.
Jule Keller, Presler’s granddaughter, doubts Furman will ever see the outside of a prison. But his journey from Death Row to possibility of parole — and her family’s return to the courthouse and a revisit of the case — is “traumatizing,” she said.
“Just when we think we can focus on remembering happy moments with her, this crops up and brings us back [to that day],” she said. “It’s never-ending. The pain is not even describable.”
According to the state Supreme Court record, Furman was walking door to door looking for work the day of the murder and was offered $10 by Presler to wash her windows.
“When he ran out of glass cleaner, he went into the kitchen and asked Mrs. Presler for more,” the court record states. “She suggested he use dish soap. He became angry and punched her in the head three times.”
According to the court record, Presler fell to the floor, and Furman hit her with a coffee pot, a vase and, when it broke, a second vase. He sexually assaulted her, looked around the house for money, saw that she was still alive, then hit her with a third vase “until he was certain she was dead.”
A friend found Presler’s body the next morning.
Furman was arrested three days after the murder. According to the court record, he initially denied committing the crimes, but eventually confessed. He told investigators that he had smoked one or two bowls of marijuana and two bowls of marijuana sprinkled with meth 30 to 45 minutes before going to Presler’s house.
“After the charges were filed, [Furman] contacted the investigating detective several times and made additional incriminating statements,” the court record states.
At Furman’s trial, Dr. Lloyd Cripe, a neuropsychologist, testified that Furman had a severe personality disorder and, because of the disorder and drug use, it was “very improbable that the murder was a deliberate, reflected action.”
Dr. Lawrence Halpern, a neuropharmacologist, testified that Furman’s use of methamphetamine “made him unable to reflect or deliberate about the mechanics or consequences of his actions.”
The state Supreme Court upheld Furman’s conviction, but returned it to the lower court for imposition of a sentence of life without parole.
‘The ultimate grandmother’
Presler was old school in many ways – a church-going teetotaler, devoted to her late shipyard-worker husband’s memory — but according to Keller she was one hip cookie.
“She was the ultimate grandmother,” Keller said. “Each of the grandkids had their own cookie jars in her house, each got their own card [on holidays], they all went berry picking with her. She was such a huge, huge part of our family. We live on the other side of the Cascades and she didn’t drive, so she would hop on a Greyhound bus and bring herself over.”
She had a sense of humor and was fun. She once hopped on a motorcycle for a ride with her grandson. She didn’t allow alcohol in her home, but once went with the family to a nightspot to hear a band and go dancing, saying that even though alcohol would be present, “It doesn’t mean I have to drink.”
“Her whole world circled around her church and her family,” Keller said. “She donated a large chunk of money to rebuild her church, and anyone who had a right to be in her home had a key.”
Presler (1903-1989) was interred next to her husband Elmer (1897-1967), at Miller-Woodlawn in Bremerton.
The family no longer owns the house where Ann Presler was murdered.
— Richard Walker is managing editor of Kitsap News Group. Contact him at email@example.com.