Is there a difference between an assistant and an accomplice?
According to state appeals court justices, the answer is yes. That’s why LaTanya Clemmons, sister of cop-killer Maurice Clemmons, saw her convictions overturned Friday in a 2-1 decision.
In 2010, a jury found her guilty of two counts of rendering criminal assistance and sentenced her to five years in prison. She had helped her brother’s getaway driver after the massacre of four Lakewood police officers in November 2009.
The driver, Dorcus Allen, was convicted in 2011 of being an accomplice to four counts of first-degree murder. Four other people also were convicted and sentenced to prison for helping Maurice Clemmons in the wake of the killings.
LaTanya Clemmons appealed her convictions. Her attorneys argued a hair-fine point about the scope of her knowledge. At the trial, Pierce County prosecutors were required to prove Clemmons either knew Allen had committed first-degree murder or knew police were seeking him for first-degree murder.
Appeals court justices decided that prosecutors did not meet that burden.
“We hold that the state failed to present sufficient evidence to support either of these options,” wrote Justice David Armstrong, in an opinion joined by Justice Joel Penoyar.
In essence, the justices ruled that LaTanya Clemmons knew police were searching for Allen – but she didn’t know he was an accomplice to murder, and didn’t know police were seeking him for that reason.
“The evidence does not show that Allen ever told LaTanya or her relatives that he knew Maurice intended to kill the police officers and helped or offered help in committing the murders,” the opinion states.
Justice Christine Quinn-Brintnall dissented, saying LaTanya didn’t need to know legal specifics to be guilty. On the day of the shootings, she knew four police officers were dead, she knew Allen was with Maurice Clemmons around the time of the murders and she knew police were looking for both of them.
She didn’t have to know precisely why police were searching for Allen, Quinn-Brintnall wrote. Knowing of the hunt was enough.
“She need not have known to what degree or in what capacity the police suspected (Allen) participated in those crimes, only that they sought him,” the dissent states.
Friday, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office would appeal the decision to the Washington State Supreme Court.
“LaTanya watched news reports the entire day of the murders,” Lindquist said in a written statement. “She gave Allen $50 and drove him to the motel room where he hid out. She knew he was sought by police in an aggravated murder case and she assisted him. The jury found her guilty. They got it right.”
Lindquist’s statement leaned on Quinn-Brintnall’s dissent, and quoted a key phrase regarding the definition of rendering criminal assistance: “a renderer need not know the degree of the crime for which police seek the assisted person, knowledge of the police search alone is sufficient.”
Lindquist also sided with Quinn-Brintnall’s contention that jurors in the case had the right to disbelieve the statements of LaTanya Clemmons and Allen regarding what they knew
“I’m confident the jury’s verdict will be upheld by the higher court and justice will prevail,” Lindquist wrote.
As a nonviolent offender, LaTanya Clemmons qualified for a 50 percent reduction in her sentence after behaving well in prison, said Selena Davis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. She also received credit for 301 days spent in the Pierce County Jail awaiting trial and sentence.
She is scheduled to get out of prison next month, after serving two years of her sentence.