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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A taste of how to solve a cold case: Detective testifies in Aguirre trial

Kip Hollenbeck, left, and Larry Haskell confer as Richard Aguirre and his attorney Karen Lindholdt await trial, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in the Spokane County Courthouse. Richard Aguirre is charged with first-degree murder for the death of 27-year-old Ruby Doss. Her body was found near the old Playfair Race Course in Spokane in 1986. Aguirre stood trial for the murder in 2021, but a mistrial was declared after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Recently retired Sergeant Kip Hollenbeck testified at length Wednesday about the evidence that led him to Richard Aguirre, now accused of killing Ruby Doss in 1986.

It’s the second week of 59-year-old Aguirre’s bench trial for the killing.

Hollenbeck was assigned to the Spokane Police Department Major Crimes Unit in the late 1990s. At that time, picking away on cold cases was done on a volunteer basis in officers’ free time.

Then-detective Hollenbeck frequently picked up cold cases, working on 30 to 40 over the past two decades.

To start, he would read a few reports, then review what evidence still existed in the case to see if it was a good fit for DNA testing, which had improved over time.

“I would attempt to identify items of evidence with potential DNA. As time evolved, so did DNA technology,” Hollenbeck said. “They didn’t have the technology that we had when I was a detective.”

The case of 27-year-old Doss, who was found beaten and strangled near East Sprague in 1986, was one of the cases Hollenbeck reviewed in the early 2000s.

In 2008, Hollenbeck received a grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to send items from cold cases out to private labs for analysis. The Washington State Patrol Crime Lab had a backlog and wasn’t accepting cold case evidence at the time.

With the grant money, Hollenbeck sent 20 items to Orchid Cellmark, a private lab, in October 2008.

A condom found at the scene had been destroyed in testing by that first private lab, but extracts from the condom were retained. Those were sent to be retested as well.

Those items included the extracted DNA from the condom. The extraction of that DNA was done by another private lab, as investigators testified Tuesday.

That testing didn’t lead to any significant leads, and while Hollenbeck conducted a few more interviews, the case remained cold.

That all changed in 2015 when a CODIS hit linked Aguirre to the case.

Aguirre’s DNA had recently been uploaded to the national database in relation to a rape charge in Pasco for which he was later acquitted.

Hollenbeck served a warrant at Aguirre’s home. He collected a cheek swab to confirm the match.

After Aguirre was linked to the case, Hollenbeck sent additional evidence out for testing to WSP.

Eventually, WSP tested the inside of the envelope in which the condom was held after being collected.

Hollenbeck was questioned at length about the envelope, which was shown in court. It was held inside a medium-sized envelope then, once considered evidence, it was placed inside another bag.

All three envelopes were shown in court. The middle one had a cut in it Wednesday, which the defense argued was made at an unknown time and showed contamination of evidence.

Prosecutors weren’t clear on when the cut was made but indicated they believed it could have been during prior testimony.

Karen Lindholdt, Aguirre’s attorney, argued that the condom envelope should not be admitted as evidence due to the cut.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Jeremy Schmidt, who is presiding over the bench trial, ruled that DNA testing had been completed in 2017 before this was an issue, but that Lindholdt could argue the cut being made at an unknown time was part of the pattern of issues with evidence handling she has been arguing throughout trial.

While Hollenbeck’s testimony took most of the day Wednesday, two other witnesses testified briefly. One was a former Airman who spoke about supervisory records generally.

The other was former Pasco Police Officer Ryan Flanagan, who worked with Aguirre.

Flanagan and Aguirre were friends, he said. After Aguirre was connected to the Doss case, the two were hanging out and Aguirre brought it up, Flanagan said.

Aguirre admitted to having sex with her multiple times.

Flanagan said he could quote Aguirre’s words exactly.

Aguirre used an expletive to describe having sex with Doss and concluded the statement with, “But I didn’t kill her,” Flanagan said.

At the time of this conversation, Flanagan acknowledged he was going through a stressful time and was on anxiety medication. Flanagan shot and killed a man while on duty in Pasco, and the case was controversial.

Flanagan said that while he was on prescription medications, he was not impaired during this conversation, following questions from Lindholdt.

Additional testimony on DNA evidence and Aguirre’s statements is expected in the coming weeks. Aguirre’s trial is set to continue through mid-December. He faces one count of first-degree murder.