By Scott North
The Washington State Supreme Court today overturned the death penalty for Richard Matthew Clark, who was convicted in 1997 of brutally raping and killing 7-year-old Roxanne Doll of Everett.
By a 5-3 vote, the court ruled that the penalty phase of Clark’s trial was flawed because jurors were told the age of one of Clark’s prior victims, a 4-year-old neighbor girl he’d abducted in 1988.
The jury was entitled to know about Clark’s prior unlawful imprisonment conviction, but “The age and relationship vis-a-vis Clark to the victim are not relevant,” Justice Richard Sanders wrote for the majority. “… We fear such evidence was too likely to short-circuit the jurors’ reasoning and inflame their passions.”
Inexplicably, Sander’s opinion says that Clark was convicted in Thurston County. A Snohomish County jury listened to weeks of testimony in Everett before unanimously voting to convict Clark and to direct that he be put to death for his crimes.
The court’s ruling means that Clark’s conviction remains intact, but he will receive a new trial to determine his punishment.
Under Washington law, a person convicted of aggravated murder faces the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of release.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Krider said in a statement this morning that he disagrees with the court’s decision, but his deputy prosecutors will prepare for another penalty trial. Because the court made its decision based on the state Constitution, Krider said he doesn’t have options to appeal.
Everett police Sgt. Boyd Bryant said his department stands ready to again assist prosecutors in seeking death for Clark.
Although he would not comment on his opinion about the verdict, Bryant left no doubt about the disturbing nature of the killing.
“Those of us who were involved in this case found it to be an unforgettable experience,” he said.
Clark, a drinking buddy of Roxanne’s father, was 26 when he took the girl from her south Everett bedroom on the night of March 31 or the morning of April 1, 1995. Her father was asleep on the couch. Clark raped her and stabbed her to death, then dumped her body on a brushy north Everett hillside
The justices’ opinions on the case can be found here