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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jury convicts Donna Perry of serial killings

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)

More than 27 years after their bodies were found, a Spokane jury convicted Donna Perry in the murder of Yolanda A. Sapp, Nickie I. Lowe and Kathleen A. Brisbois.

The serial killer, who legally changed her gender and name from Douglas Perry to Donna Perry a decade after the murders, sat quietly throughout the two-and-a-half-week trial with headphones in, scribbling on a legal notepad. She stared ahead as Superior Court Judge Michael Price read the verdict aloud, then spoke briefly with her attorneys before being handcuffed and taken from the courtroom.

Family of the three slain women cried and hugged as they walked into the courthouse hallway.

Prosecuting attorney Sharon Hedlund praised the hard work of her staff and police officers involved in the decadeslong investigation.

“We know it was a tough case, and we are obviously pleased with the verdict,” she said. “We hope this gives the (victims’) families some closure.”

During trial, prosecutors argued there was a common link between Perry and the three women, whose bodies were found naked or exposed near the banks of the Spokane River.

Perry frequented the same area of Spokane’s skid row – East Sprague Avenue – and dated a prostitute who worked the same streets as the three women.

Perry’s DNA also was found underneath one of the victim’s fingernails, on a blanket near where another victim’s body was discovered and on a bottle of lubricant known to be used by the third victim, which was located in a trash bin along with some of her other items. She also admitted to killing people in the past, according to witness testimony from a jailhouse informant.

Defense attorneys, however, argued the state’s evidence was coincidental, and did not prove that Perry had anything to do with the women’s deaths. Attorney Brian Whitaker said in closing arguments that the threshold of reasonable doubt was not met during trial, and pointed to what he deemed poor police work and a constantly changing motive offered by prosecutors.

Whitaker said he was “obviously disappointed” in the jury’s decision.

“It’s one of those things where the jury put a lot of weight on what was said while Donna was in jail,” he said. “That’s what this boils down to, because the physical evidence wasn’t there.”

Before adjourning, Price thanked the attorneys and then thanked Perry, before she was handcuffed.

“Ms. Perry, I’ve appreciated all the dignity you’ve shown,” he said.

Sentencing is set for 9:30 a.m. July 24. Since the jury also found Perry guilty of the aggravating circumstance that the three murders were part of a common scheme or plan, she faces up to life in prison on each charge.