SEATTLE — The man who was the getaway driver for a gunman who killed four Lakewood police officers in 2009 will not face aggravated murder charges at his second trial, the Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday, though he might still spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
Jurors found Dorcus Allen guilty of first-degree murder at his first trial, but they did not find him guilty of aggravating factors that would lead to an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole. That conviction was overturned, and prosecutors wanted to try him again for aggravated murder.
The high court unanimously agreed with lower courts that prosecuting Allen again on the aggravating factors would violate his constitutional right not to be tried twice for the same crime.
Allen, who also has spelled his first name Darcus, will still face another trial on first-degree murder charges.
"He can still be retried, he just can't receive a life-without-parole sentence," his appeals lawyer, Gregory Link, said Thursday.
If convicted, Allen would face a mandatory minimum sentence totaling 100 years, though defense attorneys could try to have his terms on some of the counts run at the same time, rather than consecutively, Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said.
"I'm not saying they'd succeed, but the defense will make any feasible legal argument for a sentence of less than 100 years," he said. That would not be possible if Allen were convicted of aggravated murder.
Lindquist said his office will consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling, saying the state justices had gone further than their federal counterparts in interpreting how double-jeopardy protections apply to aggravating factors in crimes.
Allen was a friend of killer Maurice Clemmons, who attacked Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Greg Richards, Tina Griswald and Ronald Owens as they sat in a coffee shop preparing for their Sunday morning shift on Nov. 29, 2009. After killing three of them, Clemmons was shot as he wrestled with Richards but managed to kill the officer and take his gun.
Clemmons, a felon from Arkansas, fled in a pickup truck that Allen drove. After receiving help and bandages from relatives and friends, Clemmons evaded a massive manhunt that ended two nights later, when a lone Seattle patrolman encountered Clemmons on a street and shot him dead.
At the time of the killings, Clemmons had posted bail following an arrest for punching officers. During a Thanksgiving dinner that Allen attended, Clemmons said he intended to kill any officers who came looking for him.
Three days later, Clemmons asked Allen to drive him near the coffee shop. Allen also drove him away from it. Allen insisted he did not know Clemmons' plans ahead of time and that he did not realize anything had happened until they drove a few blocks and he saw that Clemmons was wounded.
A jury convicted Allen of murder as an accomplice in 2011. The jury cleared him of the aggravating factors: that he knew the victims would be police officers and that there were multiple victims or that the killings were planned.
The state Supreme Court overturned the conviction, saying a prosecutor had committed misconduct by misstating the definition of an "accomplice" during closing arguments.
Given that the jury had acquitted Allen of aggravating factors, it would be unfair to allow prosecutors another chance after their misconduct at the first trial, the defense attorney said.
"They're not going to benefit from the misconduct and then get a second bite at the apple," Link said.