LYNNWOOD — A series of scheduling delays and the possible mishandling of evidence prompted prosecutors in June to drop a robbery case mid-trial and now a deputy prosecutor could face penalties for the way the case was handled.
The defendant, a 19-year-old man, is alleged to have robbed a teenage boy during a drug deal the night of Jan. 28 at Hazelwood Elementary near Lynnwood.
According to authorities, the boy was approaching a silver Hyundai when he was surrounded by several men, who took his belongings, including a half-pound of marijuana. The boy took off running. In an exchange of gunfire, the boy was shot in the leg. The suspects fled, but the 19-year-old and a woman, also 19, were later arrested for investigation of first-degree robbery.
The man’s trial had just begun in June when deputy prosecutor Michelle Rutherford introduced new evidence in the case, including a key witness — the 19-year-old woman — and a 33-page police report that included the names of other possible suspects.
One of those suspects was a man deputies arrested for an unrelated case days after the robbery. At the time of his arrest he was carrying a backpack containing a Ruger LCP .380 semiautomatic handgun, as well as several sandwich bags containing about four ounces of marijuana.
In the 33-page report, detectives wrote that the man might be connected to suspects in the January robbery, and that the gun may have been used in the shooting at the school, where authorities recovered .380 shell casings.
The gun was taken to the crime lab, where it was to be examined for DNA and fingerprints, according to court documents. Under Washington state law, firearms need to be test fired to be entered as evidence at trial, but that typically is not done until tests for physical evidence like fingerprints are conducted. But prosecutors apparently had detectives fire the gun before those tests could happen, ruining any samples that could have been obtained, the defense alleged.
In a flurry of briefs, defense attorney Elbert Aull argued that the case should be dismissed for mismanagement and destruction of evidence. He also contended that prosecutors didn’t provide him enough time to consider the last-minute information included in the 33-page investigation report. He also complained about repeated delays in bringing the case to trial.
As a result, he argued, the defendant would be forced to either waive his rights to a speedy trial or proceed to trial with an unprepared defense.
In a response brief, Rutherford explained that scheduling conflicts — including other cases, a vacation, a medical procedure and an unexpected family death — caused a delay in securing the last witness. The witness agreed to testify against the man, but that wasn’t made official until she pleaded guilty May 31 to lesser charges stemming from the January robbery, she said.
Rutherford also acknowledged she thought the trial was going to be delayed, and assumed the defense would have more time to consider the last-minute evidence. She shared emails with the court showing that she and the defense attorney touched base on the case in the days leading up to trial.
On June 7, just as he was leaving for vacation, prosecutor Adam Cornell telephoned the courtroom seeking to have the case dismissed. He declined to comment further.
A hearing is scheduled in August to consider possible sanctions against Rutherford.
Records show the defendant also is a suspect in a string of marijuana store robberies throughout the region.