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‘Plaintiff’s life was destroyed’: Man held for three years in 1994 Vancouver cold-case murder sues police detective

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
Published: March 4, 2024, 7:43am

A former Oregon man who was jailed for three years on charges accusing him of the 1994 cold-case rape and murder of a Vancouver womanonly to have the case dismissed — has sued the detective who accused him, alleging he “made deliberately false statements” and acted “with reckless disregard for the truth.”

Richard E. Knapp, in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Feb. 13 in Tacoma, alleges Vancouver police Detective Dustin Goudschaal made false sworn statements and omissions in a search warrant and in charging documents alleging Knapp assaulted and killed 26-year-old Audrey Hoellein, also known as Audrey Frasier, in her Vancouver apartment in July 1994.

Knapp lived in Fairview, Ore., at the time of his arrest.

Frasier, who lived with her 5-year-old son, had been strangled and sexually assaulted, according to police and prosecutors.

The complaint alleges the charges relied entirely on the same “cutting-edge” genealogical technology used to track down the infamous Golden State Killer and touted as a powerful tool to identify unknown subjects using DNA testing, high-speed computers and family history.

Investigators collected multiple DNA samples from the scene of Frasier’s homicide, but none matched their initial suspects. The police department also submitted the samples to a national database but came up empty, according to the charges and news reports.

According to news reports, Goudschaal and another detective then sent the DNA evidence to Parabon Laboratories, a Virginia-based company that specializes in DNA profiling for law enforcement.

Clark County prosecutors initially embraced the investigation, charging and arresting Knapp in April 2019, hailing the advantages and success of the new technology and investigation techniques.

Then, in 2022 prosecutors dropped the charges against Knapp, who had been held for three years on $1 million bail and now appears to have been falsely accused, stating the office “was no longer convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence we have as we understand it now, that Mr. Knapp could be convicted.”

The lawsuit alleges he never should have been arrested. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and has denied anything to do with Frasier’s death.

Vancouver Assistant City Attorney Sara Baynard-Cooke, who is defending the lawsuit, said Goudschaal — a decorated officer who was shot and critically injured in a 2014 gunfight — denies the allegations.

“Officer Goudschaal’s statements to the court in connection with the murder investigation referenced in the complaint were truthful,” Baynard-Cooke said in a statement Thursday. “Officer Goudschaal is committed to responding to the allegations in the complaint and is confident that he will prevail.”

The lawsuit said that while Knapp embraced his release and the dropped charges, the dismissal hasn’t “removed the cloud of suspicion” that lingers over him.

“Plaintiff’s life was destroyed, he suffered severe emotional distress and trauma,” the lawsuit alleges. “He lost everything that was important to him: his job, his friends, and his home.”

While Knapp was incarcerated, the lawsuit states, his wife was diagnosed with a terminal illness. “Plaintiff’s attempts to see and hold his wife prior to her death were denied in a two-sentence order” from a judge. She died in June 2021.

Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that police identified DNA at the scene from one of Frasier’s neighbors, who found her body and notified police. The neighbor in 2022 said he had sex with her on the night she was killed, according to the filings. He has never been treated as a suspect, the lawsuit claims.

Knapp’s criminal defense attorneys said at the time charges were dismissed that they believed detectives had “good intentions” but that they “put the blinders on” and failed to consider other suspects.

The lawsuit claims Goudschaal “made deliberately false statements or omissions, or … recklessly disregarded the truth” in focusing the investigation on Knapp. “The defendant failed to include evidence and disclosure any competent or reasonable police officer would have known the court would have wanted to consider” before issuing a search or arrest warrant.

Police have said a relative of Knapp’s first brought him to investigators’ attention and that they followed him for several months before picking up one of his discarded cigarette butts to obtain a DNA sample, which was then used to create a “genealogical profile” that led to his arrest.

According to court documents and news coverage, Knapp said he frequented the same bars as Frasier but that the two never had a relationship.

The neighbor, however, acknowledged under oath while being questioned by Knapp’s attorneys in October 2022 that he and Frasier had sex the night she was killed. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Knapp the following month.

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