Second trial in killing of Redmond woman ends with not-guilty verdict

After 11 years, no resolution for family of 24-year-old Arpana Jinaga.

Arpana Jinaga practiced martial arts, volunteered at the fire department and an organization that cares for unwanted pets. Photo courtesy of King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

Arpana Jinaga practiced martial arts, volunteered at the fire department and an organization that cares for unwanted pets. Photo courtesy of King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

What still stands out to Redmond police Lt. Brian Coats, years after the body of Arpana Jinaga was discovered in her apartment in 2008, is the smell of bleach and how her bedroom was saturated with an oily substance — later determined to be motor oil. It’s the burn marks on her bedroom carpet and on the satin sheets pulled from the garbage dumpster.

But the most memorable thing throughout the investigation, first trial and subsequent retrial, was getting to know the “brilliant person” who was sure to go far in the world, Coats said. He heard about her accolades from family and friends.

A recent immigrant from India and a graduate of Rutgers University, Jinaga had worked at EMC in Bellevue. She practiced martial arts and participated in a motorcycle club. She volunteered at the Redmond Fire Department and an organization that cares for unwanted pets.

“She was well liked by many and devoted to her family,” Coats said.

A second trial for Emanuel Fair, a suspect in the homicide case of 24-year-old Jinaga, ended with a not-guilty verdict on June 11. He was acquitted of a first-degree murder with sexual motivation charge. The first trial happened in 2017, and the jury was unable to come to a consensus.

“After nine years of fighting, Fair has the freedom he deserves,” defense attorney Ben Goldsmith said. “Emanuel has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout this case and he, his family and friends are greatly relieved that justice was served by his acquittal.”

Details of the case found in court documents

The night before Jinaga was discovered, the tenants of the apartment building where she had lived hosted a Halloween party, according to court documents. Jinaga and other tenants decorated their apartments and opened their homes to attendees.

At about 3 a.m. Nov. 1, 2008, those who remained from the joint party were gathered in an apartment on the first floor. Jinaga said she was going home to her third-floor apartment and left.

Sometime later, tenants who lived in apartments next to Jinaga’s recalled hearing the sounds of “muffled moaning” from her place, but attributed the noise to consensual sex. One of the tenants assumed Jinaga was fine, given that they subsequently heard the sound of running water from her bathroom.

Jinaga was known to check in with her family daily by phone. But she didn’t call them on Nov. 1 or 2. Her father reached out to an acquaintance in King County, who went to her apartment to check on her. The family friend and one of Jinaga’s neighbors entered her apartment and found her at the foot of her bed.

An autopsy conducted by the King County Medical Examiner determined that she had died as a result of asphyxia (suffocation) due to ligature strangulation. Jinaga also sustained blunt-force injuries in multiple areas.

Pressing charges

Never in his 27-year career had Coats experienced such a challenging case, before or after the Jinaga homicide, he said.

There were no witnesses to the crime and no one confessed to committing the homicide. Multiple people attended the Halloween party, the last place Jinaga was seen, so police worked to track down and collect DNA samples from the partygoers. And multiple interviews were conducted.

Bleach, blue toilet bowl cleaner, soap and motor oil were used to strip away evidence that might have linked investigators to the killer. Traces of the toilet bowl cleaner were found on Jinaga’s body and the carpet beneath her. Her comforter, which had been on her bed at the time of the party, was found soaked and laying in the bathtub in the bathroom. Dried bleach was found on the bathroom counter and on the bare mattress.

“It was a scene where the suspect or suspects spent a considerable amount of time covering the evidence of crime,” Coats said.

The investigation came down to physical evidence, primarily DNA, which took a long time to materialize, he added. Dozens of items of evidence were sent to state and private crime labs. Samples of DNA from an identified person of interest were also sent. Police waited for the results.

The case took two years of investigating and analyzing evidence, meeting with the prosecution team, members of the state crime lab and other law enforcement entities to continue the development of the case — with the eventual goal of bringing criminal charges.

In late October 2010, criminal charges were filed against Fair, who was staying with another tenant at the apartment building during the time of the party. He later said in police interviews that he spent time in Jinaga’s apartment that Halloween evening, returning a second time to eat pizza.

Detectives with the Redmond Police Department (RPD) obtained Fair’s cell phone records and discovered he made or received 20 calls between 1:54 a.m. and 4:48 a.m. Three of those calls were made to the tenant he was staying with, during the exact time Fair said he was sleeping in the host’s apartment while she was present. When Coats showed Fair a photo of himself, taken at the party and holding a cell phone, Fair said he only used the phone once, early in the party. Fair said he was the only one to use the phone that night.

One woman who attended the party discovered three missed calls from Fair, made at around 4:45 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2008. Fair said he may have dialed the number by accident, while sleeping on his phone. The woman told RPD the first of these calls resulted in a long recorded voicemail in which she heard constant movement, but no words.

DNA profiles from other tenants were found in Jinaga’s apartment. DNA profiles, consistent with Fair, allegedly linked him to Jinaga’s killing. His DNA was found on tape in the apartment, mixed with Jinaga’s bloodstains on a red robe found in a dumpster, and on a swab taken from Jinaga’s neck.

One juror mentioned a lack of security on the dumpster — where a majority of the evidence pointing to Fair was discovered — and the potential for tampering. It wasn’t guarded throughout the day or overnight, Coats said. It was initially searched by law enforcement the evening Jinaga was discovered, but wasn’t completely emptied item by item until two days later, a day before pickup.

Convicting Fair would not come easy. The case was further complicated by the fact that there was more than one person of interest.

Another argument

Before Fair was charged, police had another person of interest, a neighbor of Jinaga’s who lived close by. The initial investigation focused on this subject, who is not being named in this story because no charges have been filed against him.

Investigators found the neighbor’s activities suspicious. His phone records revealed he called Jinaga at 3 a.m. on the night of the killing, but he said he did not remember making these calls. He drove to Canada the day after the Halloween party, but was denied entry.

The neighbor’s DNA was also the primary profile found on an oil bottle, in a bag with the red robe presumed to have been worn by Jinaga that night. Other than Fair and the neighbor, no other DNA profiles from partygoers were found on evidence at the crime scene. Fair told investigators he spent time with the neighbor at the party and went to the neighbor’s apartment to listen to music. There were no witnesses who saw Fair after he spent time with the neighbor.

Before Fair’s trial, the state agreed that evidence that linked the neighbor to possibly being involved with the killing was admissible, but explained that he may have participated in the crime with Fair and that evidence incriminating the neighbor did not mean that Fair was free from wrongdoing. The state said rather than the neighbor being the “other suspect,” he can be characterized as an uncharged accomplice.

But prosecutors were barred from using the argument that the neighbor and Fair had acted as accomplices, given that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support the theory. The State Court of Appeals upheld the court’s decision. It was petitioned for review by the State Supreme Court, but was ultimately denied review.

“We were restricted in what we could say in that they may have acted together,” said Brian McDonald, one of two lead prosecutors on the case.

This restriction allowed the defense to argue that any evidence involving the neighbor should be reasonable doubt as to whether Fair committed the crime, McDonald said.

A jury note poses the questions: “Why was the (neighbor) given immunity and why was he limited to the questions he answered? What are the conditions of his immunity? What happened with the prior proceeding in 2017?”

The response reads: “The court previously instructed you that: ‘The attorneys have been prohibited from asking [the neighbor] certain questions due to his privilege against self-incrimination. Do not make any assumptions about what [the neighbor] would have said or speculate about whether the testimony would have been favorable to a particular party.’”

The jury ultimately found Fair not guilty, after being presented with the evidence from defense and what was allowed to be said by prosecutors.

Coats said he was disappointed with the decision, but that he respects the right of any defendant to be judged by a jury of his peers. It’s a tough decision to make, he said, and a lot of responsibility given the complications surrounding the crime.

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