Special Reports

Suspect’s DNA wasn’t kept after 1990 case

Terapon Dang Adhahn, the suspect in the abduction and slaying of Tacoma 12-year-old Zina Linnik, provided DNA samples to Pierce County Superior Court after he was charged with incest in 1990.

The samples were used in the 1990 case, but not preserved – the latest example of Adhahn’s below-the-radar cruise through public information systems for the past 17 years.

“We do not have DNA from 1990,” Chris Taylor, a Tacoma police spokesman, said Tuesday.

Pierce County prosecutors expect to charge Adhahn with Zina’s death sometime this week.

Meanwhile, Tacoma police and the FBI are investigating possible links between Adhahn and other cases of missing or slain children, as well as a series of unsolved rapes committed in 2000. DNA evidence exists for some of those cases.

Investigators have a warrant to collect DNA from Adhahn. They were still waiting to execute it Tuesday afternoon. However, if Adhahn’s 1990 DNA samples had been preserved, the task might be simpler, and other crimes – if any – might have been prevented.

“It would be very possible that he would have been picked up by now,” Taylor said. “If he’d committed other crimes, he would have been picked up.”

The history of bureaucratic miscues surrounding Adhahn suggests that his transgressions were just small enough to avoid official attention.

The Thai immigrant escaped deportation in 1992 because immigration officials took no notice of his municipal court conviction for intimidation with a weapon – a gross misdemeanor.

He skirted sex offender registration requirements, perhaps unknowingly, for the same reason – the higher court didn’t notice the conviction in the lower court. Because Adhahn was a Level 1 sex offender – the category deemed least likely to offend – he drew little attention.

Level 1 felons, who generally make up 90 percent of Pierce County’s sex offender population, typically draw less official supervision than the theoretically more dangerous offenders at Levels 2 and 3.

In 1998 and 2002, Adhahn registered to vote in Pierce County, though he was a convicted felon and a noncitizen and had no legal right to vote. Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy examined Adhahn’s registration information following inquiries by The News Tribune. Tuesday, she said the 2002 registration appeared to be a form filled out at the same time that Adhahn renewed his driver’s license. She added that there is no record he ever voted.

Both forms included a standard declaration Adhahn signed, which states that the applicant is a citizen and hasn’t been convicted of a felony.

“He signed right below that statement,” McCarthy said.

In theory, recent changes in the registration procedure make it easier to catch illegal registrations, McCarthy said. In 1998 and 2002, the system largely depended on honesty.

“If someone’s intent on defrauding the system, it’s not fail-safe,” McCarthy said. “We have to rely on the truthfulness of people filling out forms.”

The lost DNA is a more complicated matter. Court records from the 1990 conviction show that Adhahn was ordered to provide DNA samples on May 18, 1990. A Pierce County sheriff’s deputy was assigned to escort Adhahn to Tacoma General Hospital, where the samples would be collected. Adhahn and his attorney agreed to the court order and signed it. Witnesses who collected the DNA samples were ordered to attend the upcoming trial.

“If they’re on the witness list, it must have happened,” said Barbara Corey, the former deputy prosecutor who handled Adhahn’s case. Following inquiries from The News Tribune, she reviewed the 1990 case file. The subpoenas for hospital staff and a crime lab technician confirmed her belief that the samples were taken.

“DNA was definitely taken,” she said. “We got the orders, and they would have executed those. I can’t think of a single time that we got the order and it wasn’t done. It wasn’t that common for us to do it back then.”

Deputy prosecutor Mary Robnett, who now supervises the unit that prosecutes sex crimes, said Tuesday that Adhahn’s DNA, if it was obtained in 1990, probably wasn’t preserved because “there wasn’t a statewide database back then to collect such things.”