12/03/2009

Wash. man accused of aiding in police ambush

By Rachel La Corte
The Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. — A suspect accused of helping Maurice Clemmons flee after the gunman massacred four suburban police officers could face trial as an accomplice to murder - a crime that might bring the same penalties as if he had pulled the trigger himself.

Darcus Allen, 38, pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail Wednesday after he was charged with being a fugitive. The prosecution is reviewing evidence to determine if any additional charges will be filed, including criminal assistance charges.

Investigators said Allen, who did time with Clemmons in an Arkansas prison, was the first among a network of friends and relatives who helped Clemmons avoid police during a frantic two-day manhunt that began when Clemmons walked into the Forza coffee house Sunday morning and shot to death four Lakewood police officers.

Prosecutors warned they might charge him with the more serious offense of being an accomplice to aggravated first-degree murder. Such a charge could make him liable to the same penalties as the shooter - life without release, or execution.

"We will prosecute everyone involved in this murder to the greatest extent possible," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

Court papers filed Wednesday state that Allen eventually acknowledged to police that he drove Clemmons to the scene and noted that there were police cars parked at the coffee shop. He bought a cigar as he waited for him to return and then sped away when Clemmons climbed in the passenger side with a bullet in his abdomen, the papers state.

Allen told investigators that he quickly decided he wanted no part of what Clemmons had done and bailed out of the truck at the first intersection - but investigators said that was a lie, contradicted by other evidence.

One of the officers managed to shoot Clemmons in the gut before dying, but with first aid, rides and money from his associates, Clemmons was able to survive two days on the run. He was shot and killed early Tuesday morning by a lone patrolman who encountered him on a South Seattle street.

Along with Allen, two women appeared in Pierce County Superior Court on Wednesday and were ordered held for 72 hours on $500,000 bail, bringing to six the number of people to make court appearances after being arrested for investigation of helping the killer.

"For some reason, this guy has a pretty big support system," Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said Wednesday. "That's not right. You're putting yourself up against society, the justice system and the cops."

The two women who appeared in court Wednesday were Clemmons' friend, Quiana Maylea Williams, and his aunt, Letricia Nelson. They gave first aid to Clemmons, helped him change clothes and made arrangements to get him to other locations, police said.

Papers filed in their case indicate that on Thanksgiving, Clemmons talked of killing police, schoolchildren and people at an intersection, and that Allen heard him say it.

Cicely Clemmons, Nelson's daughter, said she attended Wednesday's hearing to show support.

"It's really hard," she said. "I want my mom out, she didn't do anything wrong."

According to court records, Clemmons went to Nelson and Cicely Clemmons' home on Monday, and Nelson told Cicely Clemmons to give him $60 and her car keys. Cicely Clemmons said that after he left, she and Nelson talked about whether they should tell police. Nelson said that they would not because "family's more important," the records state.

Lindquist declined to discuss what will factor into his decision on whether to charge Allen as an accomplice to murder.

Janet Ainsworth, a criminal law professor at Seattle University School of Law, said such decisions typically hinge on the helper's state of mind and how much they do to assist or encourage the crime.

"It's whether he knew he was there to facilitate a crime," she said. "It's not just guessing participation; it's knowing participation."

Meanwhile, Washington and Arkansas officials continued sparring over why Clemmons was able to make bail on earlier charges several days before the fatal shootings.

Washington leaders said Arkansas officials improperly filed a warrant that would have kept Clemmons off the street, essentially rendering it invisible to authorities in Washington. Arkansas officials, however, counter that their warrant was handled properly.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire announced Wednesday that she would refuse any more Arkansas parolees pending a review of how the interstate system for managing offenders worked in Clemmons' case.

"The improper filing of this warrant, such that he was able to post bail, is very troubling," Gregoire said.

Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, said state officials hoped the move was temporary and defended Arkansas' efforts regarding Clemmons.

"Everything we've checked shows we did it by the book," DeCample said.

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