Alec Lewis didn’t remember the 15-year-old story at first.
It clicked when he heard a few details: a summer night on Ruston Way in 1992, and a little man with a big gun who threatened Lewis and his friends.
“Oh yeah, yeah,” Lewis said Tuesday, the memory slowly returning, but no, he didn’t know who the man was.
Had he seen the news lately? The kidnapped girl from Tacoma, lost and sadly found? The man arrested and charged with multiple rapes, suspected of abduction and murder?
“That was the same guy?” Lewis asked, suddenly alert.
It was the same guy: Terapon Dang Adhahn, accused serial rapist, suspected killer of 12-year-old Zina Linnik.
If a voice can stagger, Lewis made the sound.
“Wow,” said Lewis, 38. “Wow.”
Lewis shouted the news to his wife. Abruptly, his recent knowledge of the headlines collided with the distant past.
“So he’s a registered sex offender and he goes out and pulls a gun on us,” he said. “How does that work?”
How indeed? The 1992 incident is the lost moment. It led to Adhahn’s conviction for intimidation with a deadly weapon in Tacoma Municipal Court, two years after his 1990 conviction for incest in Pierce County Superior Court.
The second conviction could have led to the deportation of Adhahn, a Thai national, according to federal immigration officials. It didn’t, they say, because they didn’t know about it at the time.
Locally, the weapons conviction might have justified sharper local scrutiny of Adhahn, who was already a registered sex offender – but the notion is pocked with maybes.
Available court records of Adhahn’s 1990 case feature regular entries from 1990 to 1997. They show no sign that anyone noticed the lower-court conviction, though a Superior Court judge specifically asked prosecutors to check for any new criminal charges while Adhahn was still receiving sex offender treatment.
“I wondered about that too,” Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne said Friday. Horne recently pored over the files of Adhahn’s 1990 conviction, looking for signs of the later weapons charge.
“There’s nothing in the record that shows that,” he said.
What does appear is an explicit order from then-Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom, dated Aug. 6, 1996. The order grew out of a review hearing – prosecutors were monitoring Adhahn’s progress in his sex offender treatment.
“The state is to check for any criminal charges against the defendant since 11/90,” the order states.
By then, the weapons conviction was four years old, the records of it available to anyone who looked for them.
In 1996, assistant prosecutor John Neeb was handling Adhahn’s case. His signature appears on Strombom’s order. Neeb could not be reached for comment Friday or Saturday despite repeated attempts by phone and e-mail.
Among his peers, Neeb has a reputation for toughness and zealous attention to detail. Horne, assistant prosecutor Mary Robnett and assistant prosecutor Mark Lindquist are certain Neeb would have checked the records as Strombom ordered.
“Knowing John Neeb, he would have done that,” Horne said.
Friday, Robnett suggested a possible explanation. The 1992 conviction might have gone unmentioned because it was legally irrelevant at the time.
Conditions of Adhahn’s 1990 sentence didn’t explicitly prohibit firearms possession, nor did they explicitly order law-abiding behavior in the future. Such conditions are virtual boilerplate in current sentencing standards, but they were not as common 17 years ago.
Given those circumstances, Robnett said, Adhahn’s 1992 weapons conviction might have carried no weight in court, even if prosecutors spotted it. Adhahn’s attorney, Bryan Chushcoff, could have argued that the absence of any restriction on gun possession and the lack of an explicit order of future law-abiding behavior couldn’t be held against his client.
Chushcoff, now a Superior Court judge, did not respond to phone messages Friday. Strombom, now a federal magistrate judge, could not be reached.
Whatever the legal nuances were, it was clear enough to Adhahn in 1992 that being caught with a gun could spell serious trouble.
When he was arrested in the Ruston Way incident, he told police he didn’t have a gun, and added that he couldn’t have one because he had a felony record, according to records of his 1992 arrest.
The same report shows police checked his record and confirmed the earlier conviction.
The police report states the call came shortly before 2 a.m. on June 21, 1992 – the first hours of a Saturday morning.
Alec Lewis recalls that he, his buddy Johnny Lee Taylor and a group of friends were leaving the C.I. Shenanigans restaurant and bar when they noticed two pretty young women standing nearby.
Taylor, who discussed the incident during an interview last week, said some of the guys started flirting with the girls. He and Lewis kept walking, taking little notice. Then something happened.
Two of their friends ran by, “just sprinting past us,” Taylor recalled. “Didn’t bother telling anybody else what’s going on – then we see this dude coming.”
The little man had something in his hand, carried at his side. Taylor saw a glint of chrome.
“A beautiful gun,” Taylor said, recalling the moment. He remembered shouting at everyone to move, get back to their cars. He and Lewis were closest to Adhahn.
“Dude’s got a gun, you gotta clear out of the way,” he said. “If any two of us would have got blasted, it would have been him or I.”
The police report filed in 1992 tells the rest of the story. An officer stopped Adhahn, who had gotten into a brown van and was trying to leave.
Seeing him in custody, a group of 10 young men, including Lewis and Taylor, screamed, “That’s him!”
One witness, described in the report as “hysterical” and “in a semi-state of shock,” had bleeding knees. Running from Adhahn, the man had fallen. He said Adhahn had pointed the silvery gun and chased him and others down the street. The witness was still angry – the officer had to restrain him from lunging at Adhahn.
Witnesses crowded around the officer, all offering to testify.
“They said there is no way they are going to let Adhahn get away with this crime, and they would do everything in their power to see justice served,” the report states.
Adhahn, sitting in the patrol car, listened as the officer read him his rights. He denied doing anything wrong.
“They are going to get me, aren’t they?” he added.
An officer asked Adhahn if he knew why he was being arrested. Adhahn said he didn’t, because he never had a gun, because he couldn’t have one.
The officer asked why. Adhahn said he had a felony record.
A little later, at the police station, officers asked Adhahn where his gun went.
“He still stated he doesn’t have a gun because he had a felony record,” the police report states. “Per a routine … records check, this was found to be true.”
Adhahn again denied wrongdoing, and said he was just trying to leave the restaurant and bar when he saw a commotion, and tried to avoid it, “because he didn’t want to get messed up due to his record,” the report states.
At the time, Adhahn was single. He and his wife had separated almost two years earlier, shortly after his incest conviction.
His sentencing conditions required him to avoid alcohol, which was deemed “an extreme risk for further assaultive behavior,” according to a counselor’s assessment.
The report does not state whether Adhahn had been drinking.
There was a trial later that year in Municipal Court. Lewis and Taylor testified. So did Adhahn. He cried on the witness stand, Taylor recalled.
Whether Adhahn’s prior sex offense was mentioned is unknown. No transcripts, filings or audio recording of the trial survive – they have been shredded, in keeping with standard practice for destruction of older records, according to the Tacoma City Clerk’s Office.
All that remains is the court docket. It shows the judge’s finding: guilty. The penalty was a $200 fine. It went unpaid for five years. Adhahn delivered the money to the court on June 10, 1997. He graduated from sex offender treatment six weeks later.
Lewis and Taylor are in their late 30s now, no longer the strapping young men who went clubbing 15 years ago on a night that ended in fear and outrage. They don’t pretend to know the tricky ins and outs of the courts, but they can see the dark path from the past to the present.
“You rape and molest somebody, and then you pull a gun on somebody, and you serve no time, and you’re out, should have been deported,” Lewis said.
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486