The jury in the trial of a former Pasco police officer accused of the 1986 slaying of Ruby Doss began deliberating Wednesday morning.
After five days of testimony, the prosecution rested its case against Richard J. Aguirre, 57, Tuesday afternoon. The defense called two witnesses before resting hours later. Both attorneys gave closing arguments Wednesday morning.
‘Anger and strength’
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Collins started her closing statement by describing Doss, 27, as a mother, girlfriend and a timid young woman who was embarrassed to be a sex worker.
Doss was petite, Collins said, so small she had to wear layers to stay warm.
“Were those the qualities that drew Mr. Aguirre to her?” Collins said.
Doss was disarmed, beaten and strangled, Collins said before showing pictures of Doss’ body laying against the concrete barrier where it was discovered.
“This is how Richard Aguirre left her; his words, ‘left,’ ” Collins said, referring to testimony by Aguirre’s friends about statements Aguirre made to them.
Aguirre had a lot to lose: a wife he had married just two months prior, his job in the Air Force and a large family that he was very close to, Collins said.
Collins posited he sought out the prostitute “so he could do something with her he couldn’t do with his wife.”
On Jan. 30, 1986, Eric Cook, a cashier at a local bookstore that sold pornography, testified Doss came in to buy condoms after his shift started at 9 p.m.
Two hours later, Doss’ body, steam still emanating from it, was found in a nearby industrial area.
Doss left the store, went out on the street and a car approached, Collins said. She talked with the driver before getting in and riding to a remote place, Collins said.
There, they had sex, but something else had to have happened, causing a struggle to ensue, Collins continued.
Her coats were ripped from her body, the knife she carried for protection was tossed by the wayside, her blouse was ripped, there were ligature marks on her neck, straw in her hair and dirt on her face, Collins said.
Doss was hit in the head and then strangled, an act that takes 3 to 4 minutes, Collins said, before pausing for 30 seconds to illustrate how long that amount of time would have felt in the moment.
“There is anger and strength” of the attacker, Collins said, noting Doss’ hyoid bone in her neck was broken.
After that, Aguirre went back to the nearby straw pile where they likely were parked and hid Doss’ coats and wig, burying them in the straw, Collins said.
After Doss was killed, investigators found a “fresh” condom near the hidden items. The condom didn’t have any mud or dirt on it, she said.
There was just one set of tire tracks, one condom and one set of unidentified boot prints in the area, Collins said, all pointing to only one person being in the area.
Aguirre had the “presence of mind” to hide the evidence, Collins said.
“He did what he could to obscure what he had done,” Collins said.
After Aguirre was deployed, which Collins said happened in February 1986, Aguirre saw a counselor and made statements about guilt he was feeling. He made similar statements to friends years later.
“He couldn’t escape wanting to get off his chest what he had done,” Collins said.
She addressed the other DNA profiles found on or near Doss. DNA not matching Aguirre was found on Doss’ waistband, but she was a sex worker and it’s not clear when that DNA got there, Collins said.
It is clear the condom was fresh, she said. There was also semen in her underwear that didn’t match Aguirre, but Collins said Doss had a boyfriend and it could have been from him.
Collins then talked about the elements of the first-degree murder charge she is required to prove, specifically premeditation.
Every moment Aguirre cut off Doss’ airway was a deliberate decision to kill, she said.
The jury could also choose to convict Aguirre of second-degree murder or first-degree manslaughter if they feel the elements of the more serious crimes aren’t proven.
“This wasn’t just a quickie; this was something, and we know what that something was: It was murder,” Collins said.
‘Impossible’ to fight without leaving DNA
John Browne, Aguirre’s defense attorney, started his closing statement just as he began his opening statement: by reminding the jury that what attorneys say isn’t evidence.
Browne then told the jury that this was his last chance to speak for his client.
It would seem in a “free society” the accused would get the last word, Browne said, but that doesn’t happen in the criminal justice system because the government bears the burden of proving its case.
“You’re really not here to determine what happened,” Browne said. “You’re here to determine what the government has proven.”
He then reminded the jury of the oath they took to protect the constitution and reminded them they are not a tool of the government.
“You are really the only thing that stands between the government and the individual,” Browne said.
During the trial, the power of the government has been seen, Browne said.
The government put so much time into testing evidence that “proved nothing” except for the sperm in the condom, Browne said.
The government has significant resources, but the individual’s “resources are limited,” Browne said.
He then went through several jury instructions given by the judge. Browne reminded the jury the crime Aguirre is charged with is “just an accusation.”
Aguirre pleaded “not guilty” and is presumed innocent, he added.
The defense has no burden to prove that reasonable doubt exists, Browne said, before noting reasonable doubt can stem from both evidence or lack of evidence.
The state has tried for years to come up with evidence and has found nothing conclusive on many of the things they submitted for DNA, Browne said. Only the sperm from the condom matched Aguirre, he said.
The state says there were only two people there, but four other men were close to Doss and their DNA was found, Browne said.
Spokane police Det. Kip Hollenbeck did a “marvelous job” trying to find more DNA, sending more than 50 items to the lab for testing, but not one piece of evidence other than the condom matched Aguirre, Browne said.
Even the DNA under Doss’ fingernail didn’t match him, Browne said.
“You can’t be in the fight of your life and not leave your DNA on the other person,” Browne said. “It’s impossible.”
Browne said his client had no reason to kill Doss, as a 19-year-old airman.
It makes more sense that Doss tried to rip off a customer with her knife, Browne posited.
The condom found at the scene was destroyed in testing, which the prosecution’s own expert, Lorraine Heath, said is not normal, Browne said.
Hollenbeck said he obtained Aguirre’s military records, which Browne said isn’t true. Those records show a dentist appointment on Dec. 23, 1986, but it doesn’t say where that appointment happened, he said.
A report covering Dec. 24, 1986, through Dec. 23, 1987, is from Osan Air Force Base in Korea, Browne said. He posited that prosecutors are suggesting that report is wrong.
Browne acknowledged Aguirre told his counselor in Korea he had arrived in February 1986, but there are records saying differently, and he was upset that his wife wasn’t deployed with him. So upset, Browne said, Aguirre was “almost self-harmful.”
Lastly, Browne addressed statements made by Aguirre. When Hollenbeck confronted him while serving a search warrant, Browne said Hollenbeck told Aguirre his DNA was all over Doss.
“It’s a cop talking to a cop,” Browne said, so of course Aguirre would believe him.
Fight or just flight?
In her rebuttal, Collins said Doss didn’t fight – she was fleeing for her life.
“Was there a fight or was there just flight?” Collins said.
Doss ran from her attacker, her jackets were pulled off, she lost her knife and then was hit over the head, Collins said.
“On what would we find DNA under those circumstances?” Collins said.
The potential to find DNA on the jackets was “obliterated” when Aguirre buried the items in the straw, like Heath said could happen, Collins said.
At the time of the crime, touch DNA was not available, Collins said. By the time DNA technology had advanced to use smaller samples, Doss’ remains, along with other evidence, had degraded. Collins also noted the DNA from under Doss’ fingernail was not suitable for comparison.
Aguirre remembered that night and told friends about it in detail decades later, Collins said.
“He didn’t get his way, he didn’t get what he wanted so he took care of the problem and killed her,” Collins said.
Jury deliberations began at about 11 a.m. Wednesday but did not come to a verdict. They will reconvene Thursday.