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Convicted killer gets another chance to prove innocence

Convicted killer gets another chance to prove innocence

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Convicted killer Donovan Allen will get another chance to prove he didn't kill his mother 15 years ago.

At the request of Allen's lawyers, County Superior Court Judge Marilyn Haan Friday ordered new DNA testing of evidence in the case. University of Washington attorneys with the Innocence Project Northwest are trying to exonerate Allen, saying new genetic testing techniques not available when he was convicted could prove he didn't kill his mother.

Allen, now 34, is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. He was convicted in a 2002 trial of aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Sharon Cox two years earlier.

Among the items to be retested are fingernail clippings and scrapings, some of Cox's clothing, a phone cord, cigarette butt and gun found at Cox's home, along with three hairs police found in Cox's hand. DNA testing of the hairs done in 2000 ruled Allen out as the source but did not link anyone else to the crime.

The Cowlitz County Prosecutor's Office opposed the new DNA testing, saying the items that would be tested won't exonerate Allen. It also said the evidence presented at Allen’s two trials overwhelmingly proved his guilt.

Anna Tolin, a supervising attorney at UW's Innocence Project Northwest, said Tuesday it could be a few weeks before any testing is done.

Cox, who was 49, was found dead in a bedroom at her Longview home on 33rd Avenue. Police found signs of a struggle, and the investigation determined she died from several blows to the back of her head.

Innocence Project attorneys said there was no blood on the clothes Allen was wearing when police interviewed him on the day of his mother’s death. During Allen’s trial, prosecutors said there were no witnesses who could prove Allen was wearing the same clothes he had on earlier in the day. However, Allen’s attorneys said his roommate testified she never saw Allen wearing any other clothes that day.

Tolin couldn't estimate the total cost of the new DNA testing as it will depend on the total number of samples tested. Under Washington law, the state is typically responsible for paying for post-conviction DNA testing, but that may not be the case this time.

Allen’s conviction wasn’t an easy win for county prosecutors. His first trial ended in a hung jury. A second trial was nearly declared a mistrial when prosecutors entered evidence that previously had been declared inadmissible. After five hours of deliberation, the jury in the second trial returned a guilty verdict. The conviction was upheld by the state Court of Appeals in 2006.

Shari Phiel covers courts, county government, environment and transportation. Contact her at 360-577-2510 or sphiel@tdn.com.

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