October 17, 2012 in City

Homicide victim’s daughter was suspected

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Avondre Graham
(Full-size photo)

Before a troubled teenager emerged as the prime suspect in a Spokane woman’s brutal riverbank slaying earlier this year, detectives had begun to suspect that the victim’s own daughter might have been involved, newly unsealed court documents show.

Billie McKinney, daughter of stabbing victim Sharlotte McGill, was described by police seeking a judge’s permission to search the woman’s home as an uncooperative witness with a financial interest in her mother’s demise. But the daughter’s attorney said investigators misstated facts and misrepresented McKinney’s behavior in order to secure search warrants, and he wants an explanation.

“While the law permits investigators to mislead suspects, to create ruses and to lie to suspects, the law does not permit misrepresentations to judges in official documents,” Jeffry Finer, who is representing McKinney, said in a statement released Wednesday. “The contents of this affidavit contain several serious misstatements.”

Finer, however, did not elaborate on the nature of the misrepresentations and was unavailable Wednesday for further comment.

In the unsealed documents, investigators said McKinney’s lack of cooperation and communication hampered the homicide investigation. She has since been cleared as a suspect in the May 3 stabbing death of her mother.

Avondre C. Graham, 17, now faces a second-degree murder charge in connection with the killing.

Police also believed 20-year-old Steven Lewis, a known gang member matching the suspect description McGill gave before she died, may have been involved, the court documents show. Lewis, a black man with a scar around his left eye, was dating Stephanie Miramontes, Graham’s mother, who lives in the apartment complex McGill did at the time of her death. A tipster told police Lewis was bragging about murdering McGill because she found him stealing car batteries, and that a car battery was found near the scene of the murder.

Police were looking for a possible connection between Lewis and McKinney, who stood to gain financially from her mother’s death.

Court documents say McGill had life insurance policies worth $750,000 as well as “other significant financial assets,” including retirement investments through Costco, where McGill worked when she was killed. McKinney is the sole beneficiary and made several attempts to collect the money, according to court documents.

“During subsequent interviews with McKinney, she showed little emotion and asked very few questions about the ongoing investigation,” investigators said in the search warrant affidavit. “It is known that McKinney has made multiple attempts to convince the life insurance company and Costco to distribute the funds.”

Investigators also say police, witnesses and friends of McKinney noted “inappropriate behavior” after her mother’s death. Investigators say they tried six times to give McKinney a polygraph test, but she either rescheduled, didn’t show up or became “too emotional” to complete the tests.

Police seized items including McKinney’s computer, cellphones and a handwritten to-do list that included a note to conduct a Google search for blood stains.

Finer said errors in the search warrant affidavit regarding McKinney “may have been accidental.”

“Sometimes in the pressure of an investigation good work stumbles,” he said in the statement. “Even experienced investigators, trying to go by the book, can make mistakes.”

However, he said, “the errors in the affidavit are unsettling, appear deliberate, and have no legal justification.”

He said McKinney “is grateful that local law enforcement gave her mother’s murder its full attention.”

“Ms. McKinney understands that law enforcement must pursue a murder aggressively,” he said. “She understands that an investigation must go where the evidence leads, and that investigators must be persistent.”

However, he added, he will demand a formal explanation from authorities regarding the alleged misrepresentation.

“In the meantime, Ms. McKinney asks that her family and friends, and the community of Spokane, understand that she is bereaved, that she grieves the loss of her mother deeply, and for her the pain is undiminished.”

Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said Wednesday investigators must be thorough and look at anyone close to the investigation to rule them out as suspects.

Graham was arrested Sept. 13 after allegedly beating a woman with a mallet as she walked along the Centennial Trail. Police noted he matched the physical description McGill gave as she lay dying in her daughter’s arms of nine stab wounds to her upper body, and that the attacks occurred in the same area. When questioned about McGill, police said Graham admitted to stabbing her. He also faces charges for attacking a female Gonzaga University student who was jogging along the Centennial Trail in August.

“We still have people to talk to,” DeRuwe said Wednesday. “The investigation is ongoing.”


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