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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Man jailed for nine years sues King County, Redmond after acquittal in killing: ‘I lost a lot’

By Lewis Kamb Seattle Times

At one time, Emanuel Fair was the longest-serving inmate in the King County Jail, spending nine years behind bars without being convicted of a crime.

All the while, Fair, whose family was unable to foot his seven-figure bail, said he had faith he would one day walk away free from a charge alleging he murdered Arpana Jinaga, 24, in her Redmond apartment after a Halloween party in 2008.

“I always knew I was going to get out; I just didn’t think it would take as a long as it took,” Fair, 38, said last month.

After the jury in his first trial deadlocked in 2017, King County prosecutors tried Fair again in 2019. At his second trial, a jury found him not guilty.

Now, more than two years later, Fair is suing King County, the city of Redmond and Redmond Police Capt. Brian Coats, who led the investigation into Jinaga’s murder as a detective 13 years ago.

Fair’s 23-page complaint, filed last month by his attorney, Ryan Dreveskracht, contends police and prosecutors botched the probe and wrongly targeted him because he was a Black man with a criminal record, despite evidence implicating Jinaga’s then-neighbor, who is white.

After zeroing in on Fair because of his race and rap sheet, investigators relied on cherry-picked DNA evidence while disregarding other genetic findings and suspects as part of a “gather facts that fit the theory strategy,” the suit alleges. The result, it claims, was a biased probe that “caused Fair to be arrested and charged without probable cause for a murder he did not commit.”

Then, due to “inexcusable delays in Fair’s trial and prolonged pretrial detention,” he “spent more than nine years in the King County Correctional Facility as an innocent man, in conditions of inhumane confinement that are well known to have a detrimental effect on mental health,” the suit contends.

“I felt like I was kidnapped,” Fair said in last month’s interview, when explaining his decision to pursue his claims of negligence, civil rights violations and malicious prosecution. “I lost a lot. There was potential there that was just taken away.”

Citing pending litigation, a city of Redmond spokesperson declined to comment about Fair’s lawsuit on behalf of Coats and the city’s Police Department. A spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said in an email, “we look forward to addressing these allegations in a public courtroom, and we are confident in our case.”

The prosecutor’s office also provided an uncut hourlong recording of an interview of former Chief Deputy Criminal Prosecuting Attorney Erin Ehlert in 2020 for a true crime podcast called “Suspect,” which examined the case. In it, Ehlert stood firmly by the prosecuting team’s decisions.

“In my opinion, and in my heart, I don’t have any question about anything we did in regards to charging — that Emanuel Fair killed Arpana Jinaga,” she said.

Ehlert also defended an immunity deal with the suspected neighbor, and the decision to solely prosecute Fair for first-degree murder with sexual motivation — a charge that hinged mostly on trace DNA collected from a crime scene teeming with genetic evidence linked to multiple people.

“I fear and I worry that someone else may become a victim at some point in time,” Ehlert said of Fair’s acquittal during the 2020 interview. “And that’s hard.”

Such remarks since his exoneration only demonstrate authorities’ defensiveness about mishandling the case, Fair said.

“They messed up,” he said. “So what else can they do but to continue to point their finger at me?”

A lead suspect

On Oct. 31, 2008, Fair took a bus to Redmond to stay the weekend with a friend at the Valley View Apartments. Jinaga and other tenants he hadn’t met were co-hosting a large Halloween party in several units.

Jinaga, an outgoing Rutgers University grad, had moved to Redmond six months earlier to work as a software engineer at a Bellevue firm. She had opened her third-floor apartment to Fair and dozens of other partygoers, who traipsed in and out during the festivities.

After the party wound down, Jinaga was seen returning to her apartment about 3 a.m.; investigators believe she was killed at about 8 a.m. Nov. 1.

Two days later, after Jinaga hadn’t shown up to work or returned calls to her family in India, a family friend and Jinaga’s next-door neighbor found her door kicked in and her nude body on her bedroom floor. She’d been gagged, beaten and strangled during an apparent sexual attack.

To contaminate evidence, Jinaga’s hands had been doused in blue toilet-bowl cleaner and her body covered in motor oil. Her arm and a blanket also were partially burned and her comforter was soaking in a bathtub.

Fair’s lawsuit includes many of the same facts that his public defender, Ben Goldsmith, used to poke holes in the prosecution’s criminal case. It contends Fair was asleep at his friend’s apartment when Jinaga likely was attacked, and that he didn’t attempt to leave the area: He helped clean up outdoor areas after the party and stayed with his friend at her apartment for two more days.

lt also points out that Jinaga’s neighbor “quickly emerged as the lead suspect in the case as inconsistencies in his story began to surface.”

The neighbor initially neglected to tell detectives about phone calls he made to Jinaga at 3 a.m. Later on the morning of her slaying, he drove to the Canadian border and attempted to cross it without a passport but was denied entry.

Coats and another Redmond detective confronted the neighbor about his calls to Jinaga, but then released him and returned his phone without examining it. The neighbor, who later hired a lawyer and stopped cooperating, “subsequently scrubbed his phone of call and text data,” the suit states.

Investigators focused on Fair after seeing him in photos of the party. Fair’s lawsuit cites a comment Coats made during his interview for the “Suspect” podcast — that Fair was “the only African American at the party” in the photos.

After a background check revealed Fair’s criminal record, including a third-degree child rape conviction, Fair “quickly became the new prime suspect” despite leads about the neighbor and other viable suspects, the suit states.

Fair ultimately was charged based on trace DNA evidence found on Jinaga’s neck; a piece of duct tape used to gag her; paper found in the apartment; and mixed with Jinaga’s blood on a robe recovered from the apartment building’s dumpster.

“It was the combination of the various items that his DNA was on that pushed us to the point of saying we are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Emanuel Fair killed Arpana,” Ehlert said in her podcast interview.

Fair’s lawsuit contends the probable cause affidavit used to support the murder charge omitted multiple facts, including that several other men’s DNA also was found on crime scene evidence and items found in the dumpster. DNA from the neighbor was found on a motor oil bottle, and from another man who wasn’t at the party on a bootlace likely used to strangle Jinaga.

Ehlert, in the 2020 interview, noted prosecutors were barred from including some key evidence at trial: Fair’s past convictions and the possibility that he and the neighbor acted together in Jinaga’s killing because there wasn’t evidence to support that theory — a decision upheld by the state Court of Appeals after Fair’s first trial.

During the trials, the neighbor, whom prosecutors at one point granted immunity for information, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

“I think he may have been involved; I think he may have lied to us,” Ehlert said of the neighbor. “I don’t think he killed Arpana. He went on afterwards, he got his degree, he’s never had a crime.”

Fair, who had only met the neighbor at the party that night, said prosecutors’ immunity deal was just another biased action taken to strengthen the case against him that backfired, because the neighbor “didn’t even implicate me, he implicated himself.”

After-the-fact contentions about inadmissible evidence are “a little disingenuous,” said Dreveskracht, Fair’s attorney, who noted police at one point consulted with a psychic medium who attempted to contact Jinaga beyond the grave.

“If you have probable cause, you don’t go to a psychic,” he said.

‘Away for so long’

Most of Fair’s jail term was spent away from the general population in “administrative segregation” — essentially, solitary confinement. To pass time, he said he read books, wrote letters and drew pictures. He also successfully represented himself in a legal claim for an injury he sustained from handcuffs, receiving a $25,000 settlement from King County in 2017.

Since his release two-and-a-half years ago, Fair said he’s struggled to adjust to life outside of jail or find steady work. Now working a security job and living with friends in Renton, he said he’s often depressed, carries guilt for a younger brother’s emotional troubles and avoids going out.

On Thanksgiving, when he hadn’t shown up to his family’s dinner, Fair said an aunt called him to ask whether he was planning to come.

“I didn’t know how to answer, so I just told her the truth: I’m depressed. I just don’t want to be around nobody,” he said.

“I’ve been away for so long, I don’t believe in holidays no more,” he said. “When you’re in jail, you don’t have a holiday. It’s just another day. So it’s kind of messed up. Those are times when you should be around family. But I don’t have a desire to do that. I just want to be myself.”