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Defense rests in triple-murder trial of Donna Perry after calling no witnesses

UPDATED: Tue., June 27, 2017

Donna R. Perry, center, is handcuffed to leave during a break in her murder trial on June 23, 2017 at the Spokane County courthouse. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Donna R. Perry, center, is handcuffed to leave during a break in her murder trial on June 23, 2017 at the Spokane County courthouse. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

After calling zero witnesses to the stand, the defense of Donna Perry rested its case Monday in the triple-murder trial that has lasted more than two weeks.

Defense attorney Bryan Whitaker told Superior Court Judge Michael Price that “after making some considerations on the case” they didn’t need to call any witnesses of their own, indicating instead that they would rely on cross-examination of the state’s multiple witnesses to introduce reasonable doubt.

“We’re OK,” he said. “We’re going to close.”

Seconds before the defense closed its case, state attorneys had just finished with their final witness, Lorraine Heath, a DNA analyst at the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory in Cheney. She testified for close to three hours about the DNA evidence linking Donna Perry, then Douglas Perry, to two of the three victims, Yolanda A. Sapp and Kathleen A. Brisbois.

Before Perry underwent sex reassignment surgery in Thailand in 2000, prosecutors allege she killed three prostitutes in 1990 who worked on Spokane’s East Sprague Avenue. Heath testified that Perry’s DNA was found underneath one of Brisbois’ fingernails and also was a 1-in-3 match to DNA found in her genitals.

In conjunction with the DNA on her fingernail, which was a match of 1 in 796 sextellion – or 21 zeroes – Heath told jurors it was likely the DNA in both instances belongs to Perry.

“Taken together on the same person, it adds more weight in my mind because we have a 1-in-3 match, and we have things that are more concordant in that individual,” she said. “It lends more weight when taken altogether.”

During cross-examination, defense attorney Pat Donahue attempted to cast doubt over the accuracy of the lab’s findings by introducing several instances of DNA contamination linked to the Cheney crime laboratory, two of which occurred during DNA collection in the Perry case.

One sample was contaminated by an analyst who stopped working at the lab in 2012, and another by an analyst in Seattle, whose profile was found in a sample once it was tested in Cheney. Heath testified that neither case happened with direct evidence, and instead was found in control samples.

Heath also told jurors that, on average, each lab has about two cases of contamination a year, and that most of the past instances were minor and didn’t impact the case overall.

Based on previous testimony, prosecutors theorize Perry killed the three women while her girlfriend was incarcerated in the spring and summer of 1990. Jurors heard from a jailhouse snitch who said Perry told him in detail about previous killing sprees. They also heard from a fingerprint specialist who linked Perry to a bottle of lubricant owned by Nickie I. Lowe.

On Wednesday, they watched a 2012 interview with detectives in which Perry denied killing the three women.

State and defense attorneys are expected to deliver closing arguments on Tuesday.

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