The former Pasco police officer accused of a 1986 murder didn’t testify at his trial as the defense and prosecution rested their cases Tuesday.
Richard Aguirre, 57, is accused of murdering Ruby Doss, 27, who was found beaten and strangled near Playfair Race Course on Jan. 30, 1986. Doss was a sex worker, living in the El Rancho Motel with her daughter and boyfriend at the time of her death.
DNA evidence linked Aguirre to the Doss killing in 2015, and he was charged with murder later that year. Those charges were dropped while investigators waited for more DNA testing, according to court records. Prosecutors refiled charges last year.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Stefanie Collins’ first witness Tuesday was Lorraine Heath, a DNA expert who testified both to the history of DNA testing and to her work done at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for the case. Other witnesses called to the stand Tuesday included Aguirre’s sister and the store clerk who said he saw Doss on the last day of her life.
Here’s a look at what came up on the last day of testimony in Aguirre’s trial.
Scientist details journey to developing case DNA profile
In January 2015, a forensic hit in the national CODIS database matched two profiles from different crime scenes, one from semen found in a condom used around the time of Doss’ death and another from a crime scene Heath did not explain to the jury.
The sample came from a 2015 rape investigation for which Aguirre was acquitted by a jury.
Less than a month after the match, Spokane Police Detective Kip Hollenbeck sent a number of items to the crime lab for additional testing.
Heath performed that testing and created a report in July of that year.
The DNA profile developed from the semen found in the condom on scene was a definitive match to Aguirre, Heath testified.
Several other DNA profiles were found on items at the scene, like one of Doss’ coats, but none of those profiles matched Aguirre or anyone else, Heath said. Some of the samples had multiple contributors, Heath said.
She also testified about the envelope that contained the condom that another DNA technician said last week was “consumed” as part of her testing in the 1990s.
Heath swabbed the envelope to see if any DNA from the outside of the condom had transferred to the envelope. She found DNA and was able to develop two profiles, one for the sperm cells and one for the non-sperm cells, Heath said. The sperm cells were a match to Aguirre, Heath testified.
The non-sperm sample was a mixture of two individuals’ DNA, but in 2017 there wasn’t enough for a good comparison, Heath said. In 2018, a special type of genotyping became available that uses a statistics and mathematical algorithm to help compare the DNA profile.
Heath found that the non-sperm sample is 8,100 times more likely to be a combination of Doss and Aguirre’s DNA than a combination of Aguirre and another person’s DNA.
Aguirre’s defense attorney, John Browne, cross-examined Heath. Heath explained that a reagent blank is a vial of chemicals used in a DNA testing process that can be tested to determine if the chemicals are contaminated.
Creating and maintaining a reagent blank is a part of standard protocol now, but in the early 2000s, when some of the DNA testing was done, it was not, Heath said.
In this case, there was not a reagent blank sent along with the extracts from the condom. When asked by Collins if there was any indication the evidence was compromised, Heath said “absolutely not.”
Store clerk, Aguirre’s sister take the stand
Prosecutors then called Eric Cook, the clerk at a store that sold pornography and condoms in the 1980s near the crime scene. Cook said he saw Doss on the night of her death and she bought a condom from his store.
The prosecution rested its case after Cook’s testimony.
The defense called Lisa DeRuyter, Aguirre’s older sister, as its first witness.
DeRuyter testified that her oldest son was born on Jan. 1, 1986, making that year’s holiday celebrations memorable. She remembers the family had an early Christmas gathering because of Aguirre’s upcoming deployment to Korea. She then testified Aguirre was deployed on Dec. 23, 1986, based on records she requested from the Air Force but not on her own memory of the time.
Prosecutors asked DeRuyter if Aguirre was cleared for deployment on that date or actually deployed. DeRuyter said she wasn’t sure and wasn’t aware of military procedure.
Cleared can mean different things to different people, she said.
Detective testifies on condom, footprints
Browne then called Detective Hollenbeck back to the stand. He testified that he sent 59 pieces of evidence to the crime lab and Aguirre’s DNA was only found on the condom and the envelope the condom was placed in.
He was also asked about the photos of shoe prints at the scene, which measured about 10.5 to 11 inches.
Hollenbeck said that he sent the images to the FBI for enhancement but, due to the softness of the ground, they couldn’t make a determination on the shoe size or make, he said after a question from prosecutors.
Browne then asked when Hollenbeck learned the condom was missing. Hollenbeck said he found out the condom had been consumed in testing when he first got involved with the case, but that prior detectives on the case were aware immediately.
When asked if the condom was found more than 250 feet from where Doss’ body was found, Hollenbeck said yes. Then prosecutors asked if the condom was found near the straw area where Doss’ belongings were found, and Hollenbeck estimated the condom was found 5 to 8 feet from that area.
He explained the condom location was consistent with it being thrown out the passenger side window of a car parked in the straw area.
Closing arguments are set to begin Wednesday morning.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.