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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Serial killer Donna Perry sentenced to life without parole

Serial killer Donna R. Perry, who was convicted earlier this month of murdering three women in Spokane in 1990, is taken into custody after being sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole Monday, July 24, 2017. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Convicted serial killer Donna R. Perry entered the hearing Monday that would permanently take away her freedom with a smile. She shared small talk with the attorneys who tried to defend her.

The attorneys’ faces prompted a question. “What do we got here? Bad news?” Perry asked as a courtroom of family and friends of her victims waited their turns to explain the pain she caused some 27 years ago.

Superior Court Judge Michael Price said he’s presided over many murder cases in his 14 years on the bench. However, he said, he’s never seen a case like that against Perry, who was Douglas R. Perry before a sex reassignment surgery in 2000.

“This is my first case, and hopefully my last, where the murders seemingly were committed for the sport of it and for no other reason,” Price said.

Price sentenced Perry, 65, to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. A jury convicted Perry earlier this month following a four-week trial for the 1990 slayings of three women as part of an investigation that had long gone cold.

All three women, Kathleen A. Brisbois, Yolanda A. Sapp and Nickie I. Lowe, had friends and family testify as to how the murders in 1990 affected them even after nearly three decades. All three victims had been prostitutes.

“They didn’t work the streets because they wanted to,” Price said. “They were hostages to addiction. All three of them were trapped. They were all courageous. They were all caring. They were all loving.”

The case remained unsolved until Perry was convicted in 2012 of being a felon in possession of a firearm. After she was required to submit a DNA sample, it came back as a hit in a national database to previously unidentified DNA found under the fingernail of Brisbois.

Investigators then obtained a DNA match from a blanket found near Sapp and a fingerprint on a bottle linked to Lowe.

All three women were found shot to death within about a month of each other and their bodies were dumped in different locations on the banks of the Spokane River.

Natasha Sapp said she was only a little girl when Perry killed her mother and left her along the river near 4100 E. Upriver Drive on Feb. 22, 1990. Try as she might, Natasha Sapp said she could not remember her mother.

“If she hadn’t been killed by a monster, then I would have a memory,” she said. “I know you are supposed to forgive … but I can’t. I want justice.”

Between tears, her sister, Marika Sapp, also talked about how for years her family feared the killer would eventually come after them.

“You took away precious people,” Sapp told Perry. “I hope you sit in your cell forever and think of the things you have done.”

Kaishea Kegley, the oldest daughter of Kathleen Brisbois, thanked her mother for putting up a fight on May 15, 1990. It’s that fight that broke the case after Perry’s DNA was found under Brisbois’ fingernails.

“She fought the fight of her life,” Kegley said. “I want to thank my mom for scratching up the man so he could meet a real woman: She carries the scales of justice.”

Brisbois left a big family, many of whom wore T-shirts honoring her to court.

“I lost the person who loved me the most in this world,” Kegley said. “I’m truly honored and humbled to be here. I never thought this day was going to come.”

Many investigators thought the same thing. Many of the original detectives in the case who were called to the witness stand had retired years ago.

Price noted, and the families explained as part of their struggle, that investigators originally named Lowe’s husband and Sapp’s common-law husband as suspects in the case.

Detectives always believed the killings were linked. And investigators tried to tie them to serial killer Robert L. Yates Jr., who pleaded guilty in 2000 to killing 13 prostitutes. But records showed that Yates was in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany at the time.

After the 2012 DNA match that linked Perry to the killings, Perry was interviewed for hours by detectives. Perry denied killing the women. But when Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge suggested that Douglas Perry killed them, she replied: “I don’t know if Doug did or not. It was 20 years ago and I have no idea whether he did or didn’t.”

Investigators also learned of a prison inmate to whom Perry claimed to have killed as many as nine prostitutes because they could have children and were wasting their lives being “pond scum.”

During the hearing on Monday, Perry followed the advice of defense attorney Bryan Whitaker and did not offer a statement.

But among those who did speak, Tabitha Mora explained that she was friends with all of the victims in the case.

“I seen Kathy (Brisbois) a week before she got killed. She was bragging about how beautiful the kids were and how she wanted to change her life,” Mora said. “I thank everyone who caught this monster. I hope you rot in hell.”