The DNA evidence points to different assailants. The victim in the 1993 crime can’t be found.
So why are Clark County prosecutors pursuing charges against two men whose rape convictions were vacated last week by a judge?
Filing new charges is typical procedure after a judge vacates a conviction, says Clark County Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Fairgrieve. Vacating a sentence isn’t the same as a jury acquittal; it simply sets the conviction aside and means prosecutors must start over.
And that’s exactly what they are doing, Fairgrieve said.
On April 21, Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard reversed the convictions of Alan G. Northrop and Larry W. Davis on the basis of new DNA testing unavailable at the time of the crime.
The testing, performed at the request of the Innocence Project Northwest, suggested the men weren’t at the scene of the crime and pointed to different assailants.
The men had been convicted by two separate juries of rape, kidnapping and burglary in a Jan. 11, 1993, home-invasion attack of a housekeeper who was cleaning a home in La Center.
The convictions were based on the woman’s eyewitness identification, though she only got a glimpse of her assailants before she was blindfolded.
After vacating the convictions, Woolard set a new trial for July 19.
Davis, now 53, has completed his sentence and was released in January. Northrop, now 45, who has been serving his sentence at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, was released following the hearing.
When interviewed this week, Fairgrieve said it’s uncertain whether the case will, in fact, go to trial again.
Prosecutors must first track down the victim and witnesses for questioning. They also must find the sources of the DNA profiles taken from the victim’s fingernails and pubic hair in 1993, which, in recent testing, showed a match with two unknown people.
In a month, “we’ll look at what evidence we still have,” Fairgrieve said. “At that point we’ll make a decision on whether there’s sufficient information to go forward.”
If the case went to trial again and the men were convicted, they wouldn’t face another prison sentence. The conviction, though, would be on their record.
Thursday, John Pantazis, staff attorney for the Innocence Project Northwest, which operates in conjunction with University of Washington’s law school, said he understood why prosecutors re-filed the charges.
“They aren’t barred from it,” he said. “I understand it’s to keep their options open.”
The prosecution is pursuing alternative theories to explain the DNA evidence.
The attackers wore gloves, and the particular attacker who sexually assaulted the woman might have worn a condom. It’s possible, Fairgrieve argues, the two attackers never left any DNA behind.
The DNA in question could have come from the carpet or from another person unrelated to the attack.
“It may be evidence of what the defendants have claimed,” he said. “But that’s not the only possibility.”
Pantazis refuted these arguments.
“It’s undisputed there was a violent, intense struggle between the victim and perpetrators in which their faces and necks were exposed,” he said.
“I do hope that when the prosecution has a little more time to review the DNA evidence that they come to the same conclusion as we did: Mr. Northrop and Mr. Davis are innocent.”
Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or email@example.com.