Four women filed into a Spokane County Courtroom Wednesday – heads bowed, coats draped over their arms – and settled into a bench behind the man accused of killing their mother 37 years ago.
Attorneys gave opening statements in the murder trial of Richard Aguirre, 59, who prosecutors allege beat and strangled 27-year-old Ruby Doss and left her body in an industrial area near East Sprague Avenue on a cold January night.
There are four elements to prosecutors’ case against Aguirre, said Richard Whaley, deputy prosecuting attorney.
First, the 1986 investigation into Doss’ death. She was found beaten and strangled in an area known for prostitution at about 10:45 p.m. on Jan. 20, 1986.
She had been spotted shortly after 9 p.m. at a nearby adult bookstore buying condoms.
Officers arrived within minutes of the first call, Whaley said, and they found by all indications a “fresh” crime scene.
“From the steam still rolling off Ms. Doss’ Body” to tire tracks, footprints and a condom unmarred by passersby, Whaley said.
Next, Whaley will present evidence on how Doss was killed, which was blunt-force trauma with multiple wounds to her head and strangulation.
The third key aspect of the state’s case is the DNA evidence, Whaley said. From when the case went cold early in 1986 to the present day, DNA evidence, specifically from the condom found on scene, was preserved and subsequently tested as advances in technology allowed, he said.
“The contents of that persevered through time with the evolution of DNA technology,” Whaley said.
Prosecutors plan to call every scientist who handled the evidence to testify, Whaley said, adding they will testify that there was no sign of contamination, contrary to the arguments made by Aguirre’s defense attorney.
Last, Aguirre’s friends and co-workers will testify that he admitted to meeting and having sex with Doss.
He told at least two people, “She was alive when I left,” Whaley said.
Aguirre’s attorney, Karen Lindholdt, told the judge deciding the case instead of a jury that someone else killed Doss, offering the name of a pimp with a grudge.
Shortly after discovering Doss’ body, police learned that Robert Lee, a known pimp, and Bridget McCoy, another prostitute, had it in for Doss, Lindholdt said.
Doss told police that McCoy had stolen money from a customer, leading to her arrest and Lee subsequently having to post her bail, Lindholdt said.
Lee and McCoy were seen at a nearby Zip’s restaurant shortly after Doss’ death, Lindholdt said. They then left town.
“This evidence was not presented at the first trial,” Lindholdt said of an earlier trial that ended with a hung jury.
“According to law enforcement, her body was discovered in an area that was known for lots of prostitution activity,” Lindholdt said.
Finding the crime scene quickly, officers documented footprints near her body, which Lindholdt argued belonged to the killer.
Aguirre’s bare feet are larger than the boot prints, she said.
Officers collected a large amount of evidence from the scene, including Doss’ clothes. She was wearing a high-neck blouse at the time of her death.
“Common sense tells us if someone is strangled while wearing a shirt like that, DNA would be on the shirt,” Lindholdt said. “In fact, it was.”
But that DNA did not match Aguirre. Instead, the DNA profile remains unknown, Lindholdt said. Aguirre’s DNA was not found on any other piece of evidence, only on the condom, Lindholdt said.
That condom was destroyed by testing in 1989, preventing further analysis. That lab did retain extracts from the condom but was unable to elicit profiles, the cutting edge of science at the time, Lindholdt said.
Scientists later swabbed the envelope the condom had been in, but that envelope had been handled by a property officer who didn’t wear gloves, Lindholt said.
The evidence was sent to other labs for testing, and Doss’ DNA was not found on the condom, Lindholdt said.
Despite that lack of connection, the male DNA profile from the condom was entered into the FBI’s database of DNA evidence and later matched to Aguirre, Lindholdt said.
She argued the police knew the condom could not be conclusively tied to Doss’ death, pointing to a 2008 Inlander article in which former Spokane Police Detective Kip Hollenbeck said as much.
The evidence was then sent to an additional lab, and further testing was done at the Washington State Patrol laboratory. It wasn’t until 2018 when a trace profile with a slight probability of belonging to Doss was found.
Lindholdt argued that result could be due to cross-contamination at the lab, following the discovery of a forensic scientist’s DNA on another piece of evidence.
The defense’s expert said the DNA case against Aguirre is “weak to nonexistent,” Lindholdt said.
“Numerous fatal scientific errors occurred in the testing of the condom from 1986 to 2019,” Lindholdt said the expert found.
Following opening statements, LaQuisa Doss, Ruby Doss’ second-oldest daughter, was called by prosecutors to testify.
She was about 8 when her mother was killed, she said. Prosecutors showed a photo of Ruby Doss when she was 16 that her daughter identified.
Doss’ family came from Tennessee, where they now live, to testify, she said.
This is the first time it has become public that Doss had four daughters; previously only one daughter was mentioned in court proceedings. The family was not present at Aguirre’s first trial.
Following LaQuisa Doss’ testimony, the first two officers who arrived on scene testified. The lead detective assigned to the case at the time of her death, Brian Breen, testified Wednesday afternoon, generally about the initial investigation, collecting the condom and the lack of availability of DNA analysis in 1986.
Lindholdt questioned Breen about whether the condom was discovered inside the initial crime scene tape. Breen was unsure, noting he did not put up the crime scene tape.
She also questioned Breen about if other condoms were in the area.
“If it would have been a condom, I would have collected it,” Breen said.
Lindholdt attempted to ask Breen if he was told by witnesses Lee may have a motive multiple times, over objections from prosecutors, citing hearsay.
Breen said he was told by other officers that witnesses pointed to Lee as someone with a motive but indicated he did not learn or verify that information himself.
Ultimately, Breen said Lee was a person of interest but not a suspect.
“I didn’t have any evidence that would make him a suspect,” Breen said.
Aguirre’s trial is scheduled to continue through mid-December.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated the state of Ruby Doss’ body when it was discovered.