There are no known suspects left in the 2000 killing of a Longview woman, with her nephew now acquitted by a jury and her son previously cleared by DNA after serving 16 years in prison.
LONGVIEW — There are no known suspects left in the 2000 killing of a Longview woman, with her nephew now acquitted by a jury and her son previously cleared by DNA after serving 16 years in prison.
It took jurors just a few hours to find Brian Kitts not guilty Thursday in the death of Sharon Cox, a 49-year-old apartment-complex manager, The Daily News reported.
Soon after Cox was strangled and bludgeoned, her son, Donovan Allen was arrested. Then 18, he gave police a confession after a 14-hour interrogation and was implicated by jailhouse informants rewarded for their testimony. Allen recanted the confession but was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to life without parole.
At the request of the Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington Law School, a judge ordered new DNA testing on the evidence. Allen’s DNA was not uncovered, but police said his cousin’s DNA was found on the victim’s collar and on the .22-caliber rifle used to bludgeon her.
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Allen was released from prison last December, while Kitts was charged but then ultimately cleared.
During trial, Kitts’ attorneys focused on returning suspicion to Allen. The defense said Allen had a strained relationship with his mother and financial problems, mentioning that a cash box was missing from the crime scene.
The defense also argued that Kitts had a good relationship with his aunt and that he helped Cox move earlier that year — possibly explaining why his DNA was on the rifle, the lawyers said.
Defense attorney Kevin Blondin fought for the jury to hear what he considered key pieces of evidence, including a phone call in which Cox expressed fear of her own son and a statement from Allen’s former cellmate, who said in 2001 that Allen had confessed.
The Innocence Project Northwest raised serious questions about the credibility of the informant statements, noting that several who offered to cooperate with investigators had their own criminal charges reduced or dropped or received exceptionally lenient sentences.
Nationally, incriminating testimony from informants given such incentives factored in 16 percent of 337 convictions overturned by DNA evidence and in about half of death row exonerations, according to the New York-based Innocence Project. It’s played a role in at least seven wrongful convictions in Washington.
Allen’s exoneration helped lead to bipartisan legislation in Olympia this year that would have required judges to weigh the credibility of “incentivized” informants before their testimony can be presented to a jury. The measure failed to advance out of committee.