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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Retrial to begin for accused getaway driver in Lakewood officer killings

Tacoma police officers lead 2009 procession as the bodies of four Lakewood, Washington, police officers killed by Maurice Clemmons were moved to the cemetery. The retrial for getaway driver Darcus DeWayne Allen started Monday.  (Joe Barrentine/Tacoma News Tribune/MCT)
By Mike Carter The Seattle Times

Opening statements are expected Monday in the retrial of a man accused of premeditated murder for his alleged role as getaway driver for Maurice Clemmons, who in 2009 walked into a coffee shop and killed four Lakewood police officers.

Darcus DeWayne Allen was convicted of four counts of premeditated murder in 2011 and sentenced to 420 years in prison. But the Washington Supreme Court threw out that conviction in 2015, citing misconduct by Pierce County prosecutors. The high court again intervened in 2018, stating Allen could be retried for first-degree murder but not on aggravating circumstances that would increase his minimum sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole or release.

The court found that pursuing the more serious charge would amount to double jeopardy, as jurors unanimously rejected aggravated murder charges and convicted him on lesser offenses.

Still, Allen appealed to U.S. District Court, arguing that a retrial on any charge should be barred by double jeopardy, a position that U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan rejected last year in Tacoma. Last week, a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Bryan’s opinion, prompting Pierce County to begin picking a jury for Allen’s retrial.

A Pierce County Superior Court spokesperson said opening statements will be held Monday afternoon before Judge Edmund Murphy.

Allen is accused of being an accomplice to first-degree murder for driving Clemmons to and from Parkland, where Clemmons walked into the Forza Coffee Shop and ambushed four uniformed Lakewood officers who were preparing to start their shifts the morning of Nov. 29, 2009.

Clemmons, who had an avowed hatred of law enforcement and whose behavior had become increasingly bizarre, shot and killed Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronnie Owens and Greg Richards. Clemmons was wounded, and his escape prompted an intense 40-hour manhunt that ended when a Seattle police officer shot and killed him in South Seattle.

Allen claimed he dropped Clemmons off at a car wash a quarter-mile away from the coffee shop and didn’t know of Clemmons’ plan, although he had previously attended a dinner where Clemmons threatened to kill police.

“In an attempt to escape your own ineptitude and responsibility, you, the Pierce County prosecutor and this injustice system, has created a convenient scapegoat in myself, Darcus Allen,” he said when he was sentenced.

The state Supreme Court justices, in a 26-page opinion authored by Mary Fairhurst, found prosecutors in Allen’s 2011 trial engaged in “prejudicial misconduct” that almost certainly influenced the jury.

The justices found the prosecutor repeatedly misstated a key element of the law jurors would have to rely upon to determine if Allen was a knowing accomplice to the killings.

The shooting prompted swift action from police and prosecutors against anyone they believed was even remotely involved in helping Clemmons in the days leading up to the killings, and the hours afterward. Allen topped that list then and apparently still does 13 years later, given how quickly Pierce County moved toward the retrial.

At the time, police also arrested and charged Clemmons’ sister, his aunt, a cousin and his half-brother with a variety of crimes, including rendering medical aid to the wounded Clemmons.

Those cases also encountered legal scrutiny, with defense attorneys accusing prosecutors of over-charging the cases and refusing reasonable plea deals.

Courts overturned gun-related convictions against Clemmons’ aunt and cousin, and reversed exceptional sentences for their roles in helping Clemmons after the killings. Convictions for rendering aid to Clemmons remained intact.

The state Supreme Court justices in 2013 upheld a decision to throw out a conviction against Clemmons’ sister for helping Allen hide. Clemmons’ half-brother was acquitted of felony rendering assistance charges in 2010.

Another woman, Quiana M. Williams, pleaded guilty to rendering assistance to Clemmons by helping him treat a gunshot wound and allowing him to wash his clothes after the killings.