Time, the experts told him, was running out.
It was July 12, and Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne was meeting with FBI special agents and Tacoma police detectives to discuss the disappearance of 12-year-old Zina Linnik.
If Zina was still alive – in a field or abandoned building with her limbs bound together – her chances of survival were growing slimmer by the hour, the investigators told Horne. She went missing July 4. She couldn’t survive much longer without food and water, Horne said they told him.
At a federal detention center on Tacoma’s Tideflats sat Terapon Dang Adhahn, the prime suspect in the girl’s disappearance.
Horne had a decision to make: Should he make a deal with Adhahn that would spare him a possible death sentence in exchange for information leading to the girl?
“The only one with the answers was the suspect,” Horne told a news conference Monday. “I agreed to do so. I will not seek the death penalty in the aggravated murder of Zina Linnik.”
The deal made, Adhahn, accompanied by his attorney, climbed into a police car July 12 and directed investigators to a brushy area near Silver Lake in East Pierce County, according to court records filed Monday. There, they found Zina’s body. She was hidden in the brush but not buried, Horne said.
Prosecutors charged the 42-year-old handyman and tow-truck driver Monday with aggravated first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree rape in the girl’s death.
Because Horne will not seek the death penalty, the only alternative sentence if Adhahn is convicted of aggravated first-degree murder is life in prison without possibility of parole.
Adhahn appeared in Superior Court to answer to the charges, and not-guilty pleas were entered.
Calling Adhahn “a risk to the community” and “a risk for flight,” Judge John Hickman then set his bail at $5 million, an amount in addition to the $2,025,000 bail set in connection with a series of rape charges unrelated to the Zina case.
Adhahn, shackled and unshaven, remained silent during the brief hearing, as he did during his last court appearance on the rape charges, to which he’s also pleaded not guilty. His next court session in the Zina case will be Aug. 1.
The girl’s relatives, including her mother and father, watched the proceedings stoically.
An uncle, Anatoly Kalchik, later told reporters that the family – who was not consulted about the death penalty decision – was glad Horne made a deal to get Zina back, “so we could bury her with dignity, and she could rest in peace.”
Kalchik also thanked people in the Tacoma area and across the nation for their support during the family’s ordeal.
Zina died of blunt-force trauma to the head, according to court documents. She was hit in the forehead, not hard enough to break the skin or fracture her skull, but to fatally injure her brain, Horne said during his news conference.
An affidavit of probable cause also states that investigators found Adhahn’s DNA on Zina’s body.
Detectives do not believe Zina was killed where her body was discovered, the court documents state. An exact time of death has not been established, Horne added. There is also no evidence that Adhahn had an accomplice, he said.
Co-workers of Adhahn’s told investigators the Thai immigrant talked July 5 of needing to leave the United States to return to Thailand, according to the court records. “He had not talked like that before,” the affidavit states.
Detectives who searched his gray Chevrolet Astro van discovered a plywood box inside. The box is used to carry tools but was empty when investigators searched the van five days after the girl went missing, the court records state. Detectives found construction equipment “all over the floor of the defendant’s residence” when they searched it that day, according to the affidavit.
In addition, a co-worker who saw Adhahn on July 5 reported that the van – which he said was full of tools and debris two days before – had been cleaned out and apparently vacuumed, the court records state.
Zina’s father, Mikhail Linnik, told authorities he saw a gray van pulling out of the alley behind his home at the time his daughter disappeared. He reported a partial license-plate number, which police used to identify Adhahn’s van.
Horne said Monday that Adhahn has not cooperated with investigators other than leading them to Zina’s body.
The prosecutor called his decision to take the death penalty off the table an “unusual step,” but added he had no regrets and said he would do the same again under similar circumstances.
He said he remains a proponent of the death penalty because it allows such deals to be made. In this case, “love and hope for Zina superseded the death penalty,” Horne said.
The prosecutor declined to discuss other cases in which Adhahn is being investigated – including the disappearance and death of 10-year-old Lakewood resident Adre’anna Jackson – and whether the death penalty would come into play in any of those.
Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644