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A Pierce County jury has given 39-year-old Allen Eugene Gregory the death penalty. Again.

In 2001 a jury convicted Gregory of first-degree aggravated murder stemming

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Allen Eugene Gregory Gets the Death Penalty ... Again

JusticeMug.jpg
A Pierce County jury has given 39-year-old Allen Eugene Gregory the death penalty. Again.

In 2001 a jury convicted Gregory of first-degree aggravated murder stemming from the brutal 1996 killing of 43-year-old Tacoma bartender Geneine "Genie" Harshfield - who was tied up, raped and stabbed in the kitchen of her home some 16 years ago. Most damning for the defendant's chances in court, Gregory's DNA was eventually matched to the crime scene.

The Pierce County Prosecutor's Office provides this description of the crime:

On July 27, 1996, 43-year-old Genie Harshfield failed to appear for her shift as a bartender at a Tacoma restaurant. A concerned coworker went to Harshfield's home and found her body in the bedroom. Harshfield was lying face down on her bed, naked with her hands bound behind her back. She had been stabbed three times in the back and her throat was slit. The medical examiner found evidence of sexual assault and determined Harshfield's cause of death was multiple sharp force injuries and blunt force trauma to the head.

Gregory lived across from the victim at the time of the murder. He gave detectives inconsistent information about his whereabouts during the time of the murder. DNA analysis of semen found at the scene indicated a likelihood of fewer than one in 180 billion that Gregory was not the source.

But in 2006 the Washington Supreme Court overturned Gregory's death sentence, citing judicial and prosecutorial error. In 2000 Gregory was convicted of three counts of first-degree rape, information that his 2001 jury was privy to in deciding to sentence Gregory to death in the murder of Harshfield. However, the 2000 rape conviction was later overturned by the Washington State Supreme Court, which ruled the court abused its powers when it refused to review evidence related to the victim's history of drug use that could have aided Gregory's defense. Since the jury in Gregory's 2001 aggravated first-degree murder trial heard evidence of his now-invalid rape conviction during sentencing, and it likely impacted the decision to hand down his initial death sentence, that death sentence was also overturned.

While the conviction stood, prosecutors in Pierce County were left with a decision: Try for the death penalty again, or go another route?

If you've read this far you're obviously well aware of their decision. The Pierce County Prosecutor's Office, led by Deputy Prosecutor John Neeb (who also tried Gregory's 2001 murder trial), decided to retry the penalty phase of the case and once again aim for the death penalty.

Yesterday, as the culmination of a penalty trial that started in March, Neeb and the Pierce County Prosecutor's Office got the decision from the jury they were hoping for.

"I tried the case the first time. In our opinion, it was a fair trial and a fair conviction," says Neeb. "There's nothing different this time."

The task required the rehashing of a mountain of powerful evidence, including gruesome crime-scene photos and autopsy reports. While going through the process again was difficult, Neeb says Harshfield's mother staunchly supported once again trying for the death penalty.

"The victim's family's wishes are always important," says Neeb. "In [Harshfield's mother's] opinion [the death penalty] was appropriate. She never wavered about this office going forward with the case."

One of Gregory's attorneys, Zenon Olbertz, told Tacoma's News Tribune in the aftermath of yesterday's court ruling that this moving evidence played a part in the jury's ultimate decision to sentence his client to death once again.

From The News Tribune:

Olbertz said outside court he thought jurors could not get past the terrible act his client committed and see him as a human being. Crime scene and autopsy photos admitted for the trial were horrific, he said.

"I think they're supposed to get beyond that, but it's kind of blinding," Olbertz said.

Neeb, by contrast, is pleased by yesterday's ruling.

"The results are what matter," he says.

Gregory is now scheduled to have his death warrant signed by Superior Court Judge Rosanne Buckner on June 13. The case, of course, is subject to appeal once again, meaning there's a strong possibility this isn't the last we've heard of it.

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