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Defense attorneys in Donna Perry triple-murder trial say reasonable doubt not overcome

UPDATED: Tue., June 27, 2017

Donna Perry, center, is handcuffed  Friday, June 23, 2017, as she leaves the courtroom during a break in her murder trial  at the Spokane County courthouse. On Thursday, a verdict found Perry guilty on three counts of murder. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Donna Perry, center, is handcuffed Friday, June 23, 2017, as she leaves the courtroom during a break in her murder trial at the Spokane County courthouse. On Thursday, a verdict found Perry guilty on three counts of murder. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Donna Perry’s defense attorney blasted the state’s case against his transgender client during closing arguments Tuesday, bookending the trial that began two and a half weeks ago in a similar fashion: with the defense criticizing the state’s evidence as mere coincidence.

Brian Whitaker, one of the 65-year-old triple-murder suspect’s attorneys, held up a bottle of Tylenol for jurors as he delivered his hourlong argument, equating the threshold of reasonable doubt with opening a 30-year-old pill bottle for your child.

“You have to be really confident before you break into that old bottle of Tylenol,” he said, the bottle positioned firmly in his hand. “They can sit here all day and give you theories. But each time you’re given an alternative theory, you’re undermining yourself. You’re saying, ‘I haven’t proved this beyond a reasonable doubt.’ ”

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Sharon Hedlund, however, urged jurors to review the evidence presented in the case, which featured dozens of witnesses and hours of testimony from police officers, witnesses who knew the three homicide victims – Yolanda A. Sapp, Nickie I. Lowe and Kathleen A. Brisbois – before they were killed in the spring and summer of 1990, and from people who allege Perry admitted to shooting people in the past.

She surgically went over the facts presented in the case, which were that Sapp, 26, Lowe, 34, and Brisbois, 38, all knew each other, frequented the same areas of East Sprague Avenue as drug addicts and prostitutes and lived in the same Spokane motel paying cash under the table.

She recounted testimony from witnesses who said Perry, then Douglas Perry, had multiple interactions with the three women and lived with and dated another prostitute, Clairann Galloway, who worked the same streets as the other three.

She then went over the DNA evidence linking Perry to the crimes. Notably, that her DNA was found underneath the fingernail of Brisbois and on a blanket near Sapp’s dead body, which was found dumped near the Spokane River. Her fingerprint was also found on a bottle of lubricant found alongside several of Lowe’s belongings in a dumpster near Perry’s residence.

“Does that prove someone killed someone else?” Hedlund asked. “Or does it demonstrate a connection?”

But Whitaker argued that when Perry was convicted in a federal case of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and her DNA entered into a national database, that detectives had tunnel vision when her DNA pinged in the 1990 cold case. He said it was clear that analysts were only looking for DNA evidence from his client, thus making connections where they didn’t fit.

“That’s called confirmation bias,” he said. “You know what you want to find, and you find it.”

He also criticized the prosecution for offering multiple motives, methods of killing and explanations for why certain details didn’t fit together in what he labeled as the state’s “theories.”

“There was reasonable doubt,” he said. “They’re giving it you. There is absolutely no proof of anything other than the following: Our client had contact with these people. You do not know who had the last contact. You do not know who killed them.”

One of the key points of the state’s case against Perry was an interview in 2012 with Spokane police detectives, in which Perry denied knowing the three victims and killing them, but also said that “they are going to put me in prison for the rest of my life.” Prosecutors used this information in conjunction with other instances where Perry admitted to having shot people in the past.

But Whitaker questioned the detectives’ methods, saying they told his client – who he said had a history of mental health issues – more than 60 times that she was lying, and continued to grill her even after she requested a lawyer multiple times.

He used an anecdote of when he was a kid, when his parents would force him to sit in a chair and wouldn’t let him leave while they called him a liar and wouldn’t listen to what he had to say.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re saying when you’re told you’re lying 60 times,” he said. “That you’re just a liar, to tell the truth.”

Hedlund, who spoke last, told jurors she “keeps asking for the perfect case, but unfortunately that’s for television. But what I have here is two and a half weeks (of trial), the culmination of 27 years of investigation.”

She asked for the group of 10 men and two women to consider the evidence presented in trial, not just the statements given by lawyers at the end.

“While we might steadfastly want you to believe what we’re saying, you really need to focus on what was submitted during trial,” she said. “I ask you again to think through the evidence.”

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