- Associated Press - Thursday, January 15, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Citing a prosecutor’s misconduct during trial, the Washington Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the aggravated first-degree murder convictions and 420-year sentence of Darcus Dewayne Allen, who drove the getaway car after Maurice Clemmons fatally shot four Lakewood police officers in 2009.

In a unanimous ruling, the high court said the prosecutor repeatedly gave the jury an inaccurate definition about what it means to have knowledge of a crime and it negatively impacted the outcome, so Allen should be tried again.

Allen had claimed that he did not know Clemmons’ intentions on the morning of Nov. 29, 2009, but the prosecutor told the jury that a person is an accomplice if he knows, or “should have known” what was about to happen or what just occurred.

Greg Link, with the Washington Appellate Project, praised the court’s ruling. “It’s a recognition that what the prosecutor did here was wrong,” he said. “The state undertook a strategy that ultimately was effective, but the court said it wasn’t appropriate and he deserves a new trial.”

Allen is the fourth person involved in the Clemmons’ shooting to have his conviction overturned.

On Dec. 24, the court reversed the convictions and sentences of Clemmons’ aunt, Letrecia Nelson, and friend Eddie Lee Davis. They were found guilty of helping Clemmons evade capture and possession of a stolen firearm. The justices ruled that it was inappropriate for the trial court to impose exceptional sentences. In 2013, the Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Douglas Davis, who had been found guilty of possessing a gun and a stolen firearm.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist maintains that Allen is guilty.

“The deputy prosecutor should have phrased his argument more artfully so it was not open to misinterpretation, but it was the evidence that convicted Allen, not the deputy prosecutor’s words, Lindquist said in an email. “I’m sorry the families and the community have to endure another trial. Sometimes the pursuit of justice can be a long and arduous path, but I’m confident we will get there.”

Once Allen is returned to the Pierce County Jail, the case will be set for a new trial within 60 days, Lindquist said.

Allen was friends with and employed by Clemmons in 2009, according to court records. In May of that year, Clemmons had a run-in with police officers who responded to reports that he was throwing rocks through a neighbor’s windows. Clemmons was arrested for punching the officers. He posted bail in November 2009.

During a Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt’s house, which was attended by Allen, Clemmons announced that he would kill any officers who come looking for him. Three days later, Clemmons asked Allen to drive him to a carwash. Allen went into a minimart, records show, while Clemmons headed to a coffee shop and shot Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Greg Richards, Tina Griswald and Ronald Owens. Clemmons was injured while wrestling with Richards, records show.

Allen insisted that he did not know Clemmons’ plans before going to the carwash and did not realize anything had happened until they drove a few blocks and he saw that Clemmons was wounded, court records said.

Clemmons fled after that and a massive manhunt ensured. A few days later, he was fatally shot by a Seattle police officer. Allen was arrested, found guilty at trial, and the Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. But on Thursday, the Supreme Court said both lower courts were wrong.

The justices said that during Allen’s trial, the prosecutor repeatedly gave the jury an incorrect definition when describing whether Allen had “knowledge” of Clemmons’ plans.

The law states that a person is an accomplice if he has “knowledge” of the crime, and it says knowledge is defined as having “information that would lead a reasonable person in the same situation to believe that a fact exists,” the justices said. But the prosecutor repeatedly used the phrase “should have known” when describing the definition of knowledge, the court said.

“The ‘should have known’ standard is incorrect; the jury must find that Allen actually knew Clemmons was going to murder the four police officers,” the justices said. “The remarks were improper. We reverse the Court of Appeals and remand for a new trial.”


Follow Martha Bellisle on Twitter at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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