Redmond police Lt. Brian Coats vividly recalls all that he learned about Arpana Jinaga, a Redmond woman who was strangled in her apartment in 2008, her body doused with bleach, toilet-bowl cleaner and motor oil in an apparent attempt to destroy DNA evidence of rape.
“She was a brilliant person. This is a person who is living her dream. She had it all going on,” Coats said.
Jinaga, a 24-year-old software engineer from India, had attended Rutgers University, won an international software award and was a rising star at the Bellevue company where she worked. She was outgoing and friendly, joining a motorcycle club, practicing tae kwon do, and volunteering at an animal shelter and fire department, all within eight months of moving to Redmond, he said.
DNA found at the crime scene was ultimately linked to three men, but only one was charged with murder.
On Tuesday, that man, Emanuel Fair, 35, was found not guilty of first-degree murder with sexual motivation by a King County jury. It was the second time Fair had been tried in connection with Jinaga’s killing: The first time, in 2017, the jury deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.
Fair, the second-longest-serving inmate in the downtown Seattle facility after being booked into jail in November 2010, was released Tuesday afternoon, three hours after the jury delivered its not-guilty verdict, according to a jail spokeswoman.
“After nine years of fighting, Emanuel Fair has the freedom he deserves. Emanuel has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout this case and he, his family, and friends are greatly relieved that justice was served by his acquittal,” defense attorney Benjamin Goldsmith wrote in an email Friday. “During trial the jury heard significant evidence that another person, Ms. Jinaga’s next door neighbor, may have murdered her on that tragic night.”
Goldsmith said evidence found at Jinaga’s apartment and produced during the investigation pointed to one of her neighbors as the likely killer. The man was the last person to call her the night she was killed, he tried to destroy evidence of the calls, and he attempted to go to Canada after the homicide but was turned away, he said.
“This is only a fraction of the evidence exonerating Emanuel which was wide-ranging and persuasive. Emanuel, his family, and friends ask for privacy, as he works to rebuild his life,” wrote Goldsmith.
Court records show prosecutors did not believe they had enough evidence to charge Jinaga’s neighbor, who met Fair the night of the homicide.
According to court records and Chief Criminal Deputy Mark Larson, prosecutors were barred from arguing that Fair and the neighbor were both involved in Jinaga’s killing because there wasn’t evidence to support the state’s theory the men acted as accomplices. That decision was upheld by the state Court of Appeals following Fair’s first trial.
“The evidence of Fair’s involvement is compelling,” Larson said this week. “We were limited in the way we were able to argue the case and we have to live with that … We try cases and we accept we have to prove everything beyond a reasonable doubt. “
The Seattle Times is not naming Jinaga’s neighbor because he has not been charged.
According to court records:
On Halloween 2008, Jinaga and several of her neighbors at the Valley View Apartments threw a large Halloween party, with guests moving between their units. Fair, a guest of another woman living in the building, met Jinaga and her neighbor that night.
Around 3 a.m. on Nov. 1, Jinaga left a gathering in a ground-floor apartment and returned to her apartment on the third floor.
In the intervening hours, neighbors who lived on either side of Jinaga’s apartment heard muffled moaning sounds but assumed she and a partner were having consensual sex. Police believe she was killed around 8 a.m.
Two days later, a friend of Jinaga’s father went to check up on her because she hadn’t answered phone calls from her family in India. He and Jinaga’s next-door neighbor — who became a suspect in her slaying — discovered her locked door had been kicked in and found her nude body on her bedroom floor. Jinaga had been gagged, brutally beaten and most likely raped. She died from ligature strangulation, a bootlace the suspected murder weapon.
Jinaga’s hands were covered in blue toilet-bowl cleaner, her body and other items were covered in motor oil, her bed had been stripped, a blanket was partially burned and her soaked comforter was found in the bathtub.
From the beginning, it was a complex case, complicated by the fact so many people had attended the party the night before she was killed, said Coats, the Redmond police lieutenant.
“It was a brutal scene. It was just gruesome,” he said. “I hope I never have to investigate a case like this again.”
Larson, the chief criminal deputy prosecutor, noted Fair’s DNA was found on Jinaga’s neck, a piece of duct tape used to gag her, a piece of toilet paper or paper towel found at the crime scene, and was mixed with Jinaga’s blood on a robe found in the apartment building’s trash bin. The neighbor’s DNA was found on a discarded bottle of motor oil, found in the same bag with the robe. A third man’s DNA was on a bootlace, also found in the trash, but he had an alibi.
The neighbor invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Larson said. Because of this, a judge limited the scope of questions the man could be asked during the trial.
One juror said that when the jury began its deliberations on June 6, the 12-member panel was evenly split: Four thought Fair was not guilty, four thought he was guilty, and four were undecided. But as they worked through the evidence, jurors came to believe the state had not met its burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt, said the juror, a 35-year-old Bellevue software engineer who asked not to be named to protect his privacy
“It was tough for us to vote not guilty because the family still doesn’t know exactly who killed her,” the juror said. “It’s got to be terrible for everybody it touched. They’re still crying about it 10 years later — and they will be for the rest of their lives – because it was such a horrible thing.”
He said evidence about Jinaga’s neighbor raised significant questions for the jury.
“I think that was the biggest reasonable doubt and no one could eliminate him [as the killer],” the juror said of the neighbor. “We found [Fair] not guilty because of reasonable doubt, not because we thought he was completely innocent.”