LYNNWOOD — The state Supreme Court has sided with Snohomish County prosecutors in an attempted murder case that sent a Lynnwood man to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
A year ago, the state Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of David Morgan, who local jurors found guilty in 2016 of attempted murder, assault and arson in an attack on his ex-wife in Lynnwood. It ruled that Lynnwood police improperly seized evidence from Morgan’s hospital room and that the evidence should not have been presented to jurors.
Morgan, 60, was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
The legal dispute revolved around plastic bags of clothing that were collected while Morgan was being treated for smoke inhalation after the fire. A bloodstain pattern analysis performed on his clothing suggested he was in close proximity to the victim when she suffered her injuries.
Police say that at the time, they were worried the fabric might be contaminated with gasoline, a fluid associated with arson that is known to dissipate quickly.
Prosecutors argued there were pressing circumstances for search and seizure, and say the items were in plain view.
The Snohomish County trial judge disagreed with the plain-view argument, but found there were exigent circumstances and allowed the evidence to be brought out at trial.
The appeals court disagreed with the county judge’s decision and said the clothing should have been excluded from exhibits. The ruling noted that the officer who took the clothes did not report smelling the gasoline himself to prompt the search.
In the petition to the state Supreme Court, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Seth Fine wrote, “The only effective way to protect the evidentiary value of the clothing was to seize it as soon as possible.”
In a May 16 ruling, the state Supreme Court reinstated Morgan’s convictions and sent the case back to the Court of Appeals.
“Nothing in this record suggests any ambiguity; it is clear from context that the plastic hospital bags contained the clothing hospital staff removed in treating Morgan,” according to the ruling signed by seven state Supreme Court justices. “Thus, the State met its burden to show that (the officer) lawfully seized Morgan’s clothing under the plain view doctrine.”