A top county prosecutor allowed a man with eight felony convictions to walk away from an attempted robbery charge even though the Spokane convenience store incident was captured on videotape.
Kathryn Lee, who heads the prosecutor’s major crimes unit, signed papers last week dismissing the first-degree attempted armed robbery charge against Keith L. Dafler, 38.
Lee said the evidence against Dafler isn’t good enough to take his case to trial. “It was just real thin,” she said, adding that the videotape’s quality is poor.
Dafler - who has been convicted of several counts of forgery, drug possession and theft in the past eight years - faced up to nine years in prison if found guilty of trying to rob the Maid O’Clover store at 2005 N. Hamilton on May 16.
The store manager and the detective who investigated the case expressed disbelief at Lee’s decision.
“I don’t know what they feel is good-enough evidence,” said Gwen Simpson, store manager. “That’s why we have the security cameras, so if we are robbed, something can be done about it. What does that say for the justice system?”
Detective Richard Losh, who investigated the attempted holdup, said there was an eyewitness to the crime as well as the store’s surveillance video.
Assistant manager Jeffrey Mann, who was working behind the counter that night, was prepared to testify against Dafler, Losh said.
“Seems pretty good (evidence) to me,” the detective said.
Police say Dafler entered the store about 8:15 p.m. and demanded $100 after pointing an apparent gun wrapped in a green shirt at Mann.
Dafler ran off without any money when several people came into the store, police say.
A police officer who later watched the videotape said it shows Dafler in the store pointing with his shirt-wrapped hand at the assistant manager.
Dafler was arrested nearby. Police said he had a green flannel shirt tucked in the waistband of his pants.
Lee said none of that adds up to a case she could win.
The quality of pictures from the surveillance camera wasn’t good, and Mann’s eyewitness testimony would go only so far in court, she said.
“The problem runs into what they know is true and what I can prove is true,” said Lee, who added she understands Simpson’s and Losh’s frustration.
In addition, the major crimes unit of the prosecutor’s office is swamped with more serious cases, Lee said. Those took priority over the Dafler case, she said.
Nearly 20 murder cases are pending as well as several armed robberies and assaults.
“We got hit with a lot of other things, and I took another look at the case and said, ‘eh,”’ Lee said.
Prosecuting Attorney Jim Sweetser stood behind Lee, who he hand-picked to take over the major crimes unit in 1995.
Sweetser said he appreciates the concerns of Simpson and Losh but noted they are not lawyers.
“Deputy prosecutors have to be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a case and decide if the evidence is sufficient to get the unanimous vote of a jury,” Sweetser said. “In some cases, they decide it isn’t. I would admit that that is the exception. But that’s the reason we’re paid the big bucks - to make those kinds of decisions.”