LONGVIEW (AP) — New DNA testing has linked a Kelso man to the murder of his aunt 15 years ago — and could exonerate the victim's son, who is serving life in prison for the crime.
Longview police arrested Brian Del Kitts, 42, on Tuesday for investigation of first-degree murder in the death of Sharon Cox in 2000, The Daily News reported. Evidence suggested she was strangled and struck with a blunt object.
Cox's son, Donovan Allen, was 18 and found his mother in a pool of blood. He gave police a confession after 14 hours of overnight interrogation. Though he later recanted, he was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder at his second trial in 2002 and is serving life without parole.
The Innocence Project Northwest at the University of Washington Law School requested the new DNA testing — with technology that is far more sensitive than was available back then — last spring in an effort to exonerate Allen. Policy director Lara Zarowsky told The Associated Press on Wednesday 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.
A hearing in Allen's case has been set for Dec. 22, but the organization said it hopes the Cowlitz County prosecutor's office will agree sooner to his release.
"Any additional time he has to spend in prison for the murder of his mother is a tragedy," Zarowsky said. "To us, this is a clear case of wrongful conviction."
For now, Longview police say they don't see it that way.
"At this point the charges are still standing (against Allen)," Detective Sgt. Chris Blanchard told The Daily News. "We view this as a second suspect, not as an exoneration of Donovan Allen at this point."
Police said the new DNA testing, performed by the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, provided "compelling evidence" linking Kitts to the killing. It was not immediately clear if Kitts had an attorney or, if so, who is representing him. He was being held without bail at the Cowlitz County Jail.
In a statement released by Innocence Project Northwest, Donovan was quoted as saying that he was relieved to hear of Kitts' arrest.
"He has taken everything from me," Allen said. "I lost my mother, then I lost my freedom and my family — this has destroyed so many lives."
Cox, 49, 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. Their request was granted by Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Marilyn Haan in June.
Blanchard said Kitts' DNA was found on the collar area of Cox's turtleneck sweater and on her shirt. According to a court document, a scientist with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab said the amount of DNA found is not consistent with casual contact such as a hug.
In 2003, Kitts pleaded guilty to threatening to kill another person and was sentenced to 24 days in jail plus 48 hours of community service for felony harassment. In 2004, he was sentenced to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery, possession of methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.