- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - A Washington state man convicted of killing his mother 15 years ago walked free out of prison Wednesday after investigators said new DNA tests linked another man to the crime.

Donovan Allen left Clallam Bay Corrections Center on the Olympic Peninsula a day after a prosecutor dismissed the case against him, lawyers with the Innocence Project Northwest at University of Washington Law School told The Associated Press.

“It feels surreal,” Allen said in a statement emailed by Anna Tolin, the organization’s director. “I can finally begin the life I was robbed of. … I’m so glad to have a second chance to be a father, a son, an uncle.”

Allen was 18 when his mother, Sharon Cox, 49, was strangled and bludgeoned in 2000. He confessed to police after an overnight, 14-hour-long interrogation. Though he later recanted, he was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Investigators said new DNA tests recently linked Cox’s nephew, 42-year-old Brian Del Kitts, to the killing and he was arrested last week. He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to an aggravated murder charge.

The Innocence Project Northwest requested the new DNA testing - with technology that is far more sensitive than was available 15 years ago - earlier this year in an effort to exonerate Allen.

Policy director Lara Zarowsky told The Associated Press last week that prosecutors never suggested during Allen’s trials that more than one person may have been responsible, the new testing excludes Allen as a suspect, and Allen should be freed from prison.

Police said the tests, performed by the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, provided “compelling evidence” linking Kitts to the killing. Prosecutors dismissed the case against Allen without prejudice, meaning charges could be brought again if further evidence arises linking him. Allen’s lawyers said the DNA test excluded him as a suspect.

Cowlitz County Prosecutor Ryan Jurvakainen called the decision to drop the charge against Allen “the right thing to do.”

His lawyer described the case as emotional.

“I’ve been meeting with Donovan at this prison for the past four years, and I am truly humbled to share this moment when Donovan can begin to rebuild his life after all he has endured,” Tolin wrote.

Cox was the sister of Kitts’ adoptive mother. Kitts was identified as a person of interest during the original investigation, Longview police said, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him.

Among the items Innocence Project Northwest wanted retested were scrapings from Cox’s fingernails, a cigarette butt, a gun, a phone cord, precise areas of the victim’s clothing, and hair found in Cox’s hand. Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Marilyn Haan granted the request in June.

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