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Convicted murderer wins new trial for 2004 killings

A Cheney man convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend by pushing her out of a moving car has won a new trial.

State appeals court judges ruled Tuesday that attorneys should not have been allowed to question potential jurors privately during jury selection.

John E. Lipinski, 29, was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder in 2006 and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Police say he threw his 19-year-old girlfriend, Melissa S. Saldivar, from a moving car in Spokane on Aug. 11, 2004, fracturing her skull.

Saldivar was seven months pregnant at the time; doctors kept her alive long enough to deliver their baby, Mataya, but the girl was brain dead and was taken off life support on Oct. 1, 2004.

Judges with the Division III Court of Appeals ruled attorneys should not have questioned Lipinski’s jurors in private – a long-standing practice that was abandoned in 2009. The practice was thought to make potential jurors more comfortable and honest than if they were questioned in an open courtroom, but the state Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that it was a closure of public trials.

Jack Driscoll, chief criminal Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor, accurately predicted in 2011 the Lipinski case could be reversed over the issue.

“We can either ask for a motion to reconsider or petition the state Supreme Court for review,” Driscoll said of Tuesday’s ruling. “Or we can accept the decision and set a new trial date. Those are the three things we will discuss.”

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