Attorneys on Tuesday gave their opening statements in the trial of a former Pasco police officer accused of killing a woman working as a prostitute in Spokane in the 1980s.
Richard J. Aguirre, 57, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the of killing Ruby Doss in January of 1986.
Doss, who was a sex worker at the time, was found beaten and strangled near Playfair Race Course on Jan. 30, 1986. DNA evidence linked Aguirre to the case in 2014 and he was charged with murder the next year, but those charges were dropped while investigators waited for more DNA testing. Aguirre was re-charged last year.
Prosecutor Stefanie Collins began her opening statement by addressing why it took so long to get the case to trial.
She detailed how Doss, 27, was, living in the El Rancho Motel with her young daughter and boyfriend.
Collins then told the jury how Doss was found, wedged between cement platforms in an industrial area near East Sprague Avenue.
“Her petite face was covered with dirt and injuries,” Collins said.
Two sets of footprints were found at the scene, one matching Doss’s red boots and another waffle-style print investigators believe belonged to the killer, Collins said.
The waffle footprints led away from Doss’ body to a pile of straw where investigators found a crumpled $50 bill, two coats, earrings, a steak knife and a used condom, Collins said.
The knife was Doss’ “sole protection,” Collins said.
There was also a single set of fresh tire tracks, she said.
Collins said that investigators submitted evidence to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in 1986, but DNA testing was still in its infancy.
“No one came forward in 1986 to say they had been involved in the death of Ruby Doss,” Collins said while pointedly looking at the defendant.
The case went cold, Collins said, before the condom was sent to Lifecodes lab in New York in 1989. There, the sperm was extracted from the condom and analyzed but yielded no result, Collins said. The condom was consumed as part of the testing, she said.
The extracted sperm and evidence bag the condom was held in were sent back to Spokane. Years later, those extracts were sent to two more labs that got DNA profiles, Collins said.
That profile was uploaded into the national DNA database called CODIS. In 2014, a match came back for Aguirre, Collins said.
Aguirre’s attorney, John Browne, reminded jurors that what Collins or any attorney says isn’t considered evidence – only testimony from witnesses and evidence admitted by the judge can be considered.
Browne then said that the loss of the condom was not common, even in the 1980s.
“I don’t know how (the lab worker who analyzed the DNA) is going to explain a condom consumed in testing when you can get DNA from a grain as big as salt,” Browne said.
The jury will get a lesson on the history of DNA science as part of this case, Browne said.
He said that even the state’s DNA experts can’t make a definitive identification without using a reagent, which wasn’t used in this case. Browne said that means “the testing is not valid.”
Browne went on to note that Aguirre is a former police officer who was well respected. He briefly mentioned a document from the Air Force that shows Aguirre was deployed to Korea at the time of Doss’ death before reaffirming that attorney’s statement’s aren’t evidence and the jury should focus on what can be proven. Prosecutors have argued the document only shows he was meant to be overseas, not that he actually was.
After opening statements, prosecutors began to call witnesses, starting with several former Spokane police officers.
Testimony from the scene
Clifford Walter, a retired Spokane police officer, was the first on the scene. He told the court that steam was emanating from Doss’ body when he arrived, indicating she had recently been killed.
Doss was on her side between two concrete barriers, with blood and dirt on her face and her pants unzipped, Walter said. He checked for a pulse but didn’t find one, he added.
Former Detective Nicolis Stanley said he was called to the crime scene a short time later. He examined the area where Doss’ body was found. Prosecutors showed a video taken of the crime scene before Doss’ body was removed, along with photos taken at the same time.
It was late at night and dark, so after Doss’ body was removed, the crime scene was secured and Stanley, along with other investigators, went to interview witnesses and people who knew Doss, then planned to return to the scene after sunrise, he said.
Stanley went to the El Rancho Motel, where Doss lived with her boyfriend and daughter. There, investigators took earrings and a steak knife to compare with items the boyfriend said Doss had with her that night, Stanley said.
He returned to the crime scene after sunrise. Investigators then found footsteps leading to a dug out area nearby for vehicles to pull into and be loaded with hay or other items. Manure and hay sat piled on either side of the dug out area.
There, Stanley told the court he found a wadded up $50 bill, two coats buried in the hay, a steak knife, a wig and a used condom.
Prosecutors showed a video of the area, along with photos taken before the items were removed.
The last witness of the day was former Detective Brian Breen, who was the lead detective on the case early in the investigation.
Breen testified similarly to Stanley about the scene where Doss’ body was found.
After her body was removed, Breen attended the autopsy that was conducted at Holy Family hospital, he said. Breen said there was blood on Doss’ face and hands, which could be seen in autopsy photos shown in court.
There was evidence that Doss was hit on the head and knocked unconscious before being strangled, Breen said.
Based on the initial evidence, Breen’s early theory was that it was a “prostitute buy gone bad and the prostitute was murdered.”
Breen then testified to what kinds of testing he asked to have done on the evidence collected at the scene, including finger print analysis and hair and fiber testing.
At the time, DNA testing was extremely new and Breen spearheaded bringing the capability to send evidence off for DNA testing to Spokane, he said. He confirmed evidence in the case was sent to Lifecodes lab in New York.
Brown asked Breen if there was any evidence connecting the condom to Doss. Breen said he believed that the location of the condom near the hidden coats, along with how recently it was used, connected it to Doss.
Breen was moved to a different unit at the police department in March 1986, and another investigator took over the Doss case.
The prosecutor plans to call more witnesses when trial resumes Wednesday morning. Aguirre’s trial is scheduled to continue through next week.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Playfair Race Course.
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.