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Triple-murder investigation gets fresh start

In his first public comments since the collapse of the Kevin Harper murder case, Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty said Friday his office is “redoing everything” in a renewed effort to resolve the triple-homicide case.

Fielding questions during an unusual “no cameras allowed” news conference, Hagarty declined to discuss mistakes in the investigation that led to Wednesday’s dismissal of aggravated first-degree murder charges against Harper, once the prime suspect in the killing of three members of the Goggin family.

With two newly assigned sheriff’s detectives on the case, Hagarty said it’s more important at this stage to focus on solving the killings than dwelling on misconduct and mistakes.

Prosecutors and investigators have been under intense fire for their handling of the case, which began Feb. 18, 2011, when Bill Goggin, owner of a Yakima engineering firm; his wife, Pauline; and his 98-year-old mother, Bettye, were found bludgeoned to death in their home in the gated Falcon Ridge community, west of Yakima.

Hagarty defended the Harper plea deal as “the right thing” given the recent emergence of a previously undisclosed witness whose statement shifted the timeline surrounding the deaths and gave Harper a possible alibi.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Harper pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm that was taken from the Goggin home and one count of second-degree possession of stolen property. As part of the deal, he agreed to a sentence of just over seven years in prison.

Hagarty described the discovery of the new witness as having the effect of a “landslide on a river,” forcing prosecutors to adjust their thinking of the case and “making us question whether Kevin Harper was involved in the burglary and the murders of the Goggins.”

Although Hagarty refused to discuss the witness or the statement in detail, Harper’s defense attorneys have said the witness was a neighbor of the Goggins, whose report of suspicious activity at the Goggin home on the presumed night of the attack was either dismissed or mislaid by sheriff’s detectives.