The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
Oct. 4—The second murder trial got underway Monday for the man accused of being the getaway driver in a 2009 shooting at a Parkland coffee shop where four Lakewood police officers were killed.
Dorcus Dewayne Allen, 51, was first convicted in 2011 by a Pierce County jury of driving his friend and employer, Maurice Clemmons, to and from the fatal shooting.
Allen was sentenced to 420 years in prison, but in 2015, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that he did not receive a fair trial. In a 9-0 decision, the court said a deputy prosecutor committed misconduct during closing arguments by repeatedly saying Allen “should have known” that Clemmons intended to kill the officers. That was a misstatement of the law, the high court ruled, and the case was sent back to Pierce County Superior Court for a new trial.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys made opening statements Monday, laying out their cases for jurors to decide whether Allen, also known by the first name Darcus, is guilty of being an accomplice to four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Gregory Richards and Ronald Owens. If convicted, Allen could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Deputy prosecutor Sunni Ko began by introducing the two men at the center of the trial: Clemmons, a man “willing to die” so he could kill as many police as he could, and Allen, the man who purportedly helped his longtime friend and employer plan and execute the shootings. Ko described in detail how Clemmons walked into the Forza coffee shop armed with two guns the morning of Nov. 29, 2009, and began his shooting spree without a word of warning.
“As Richards stood at the counter, ordering a drink, Clemmons walked to where three officers sat,” Ko said. “Without notice, without preamble, without a single word, he took out his gun, he raised it, put it to the back of Tina Griswold’s head and pulled the trigger.”
Another officer was shot before anyone could react, Ko said. Then Owens got up from his chair and fired at Clemmons, injuring him before Clemmons fatally shot him, too. Ko said a struggle broke out between the gunman and the remaining officer, Richards. Clemmons fought to get the man’s gun, which he wrenched away and used to fire another fatal gunshot.
Ko called the ensuing manhunt for Clemmons the largest in the state of Washington. It ended early the morning of Dec. 1 when a Seattle police officer recognized Clemmons and shot him dead.
For a little less than an hour, Ko went over a timeline of events that led up to the shooting, describing for jurors what Allen knew about Clemmons intentions and when he knew it. Cell phone evidence, statements to police and circumstantial evidence are expected to be presented at the trial, which is estimated to last for about eight weeks. Ko said jurors would see surveillance video of the getaway truck entering and exiting a car wash near the coffee shop where Allen allegedly went while the shooting occurred. She asked the jurors to pay close attention to how long the truck was there.
Ko said the video shows that 5 minutes and 25 seconds elapse between when the car enters and exits the car wash. She said it would be Allen’s story that Clemmons was still in the car when they parked and that, unbeknownst to him, Clemmons walked to the coffee shop while Allen went across the street to get a cigar and change for a wash. But, Ko said, the timing in the footage makes that impossible. Detectives walked that distance at a fast pace in another video and found it takes at least 3 minutes just to get to the coffee shop.
“The only way that this crime could have been accomplished in that length of time is if and only if the defendant dropped off Maurice Clemmons at the Forza because he knew exactly, without a doubt, Maurice Clemmons was going in there to kill himself some police officers,” Ko said.
In his opening statement, Allen’s defense attorney, Peter Mazzone, called prosecutors tight timeline for the shooting “hogwash,” saying that the truck was at the car wash for 13-and-a-half minutes. Mazzone led the jury through maps, hand-drawn diagrams and photographs of the areas around the car wash, telling them in impassioned speeches that he would prove without a doubt that there was more time than prosecutors claimed.
“Hold me to that,” Mazzone said.
For about an hour and a half, Mazzone described how Allen came to Washington from his hometown in Arkansas for the promise of a place to stay and a job through his old friend Clemmons and, how, over the course of months, Clemmons’ behavior began to get out of control.
“In early May began a sort of a downward spiral for Maurice Clemmons that became tragic, ultimately,” Mazzone said.
It was around that time, Mazzone said, that Clemmons invited another friend to stay with Allen in a detached garage on Clemmons’ property. The attorney said the men ruined the living area through a religious ritual that involved building a shrine around an oven and both men claiming to be God. In May, Clemmons was arrested for assaulting two Pierce County deputies after they responded to a call of a disturbance outside one of the man’s homes.
In remarks from both the state and the defense, attorneys agreed that Allen was financially destitute before moving to the Tacoma area to make money through his friend’s landscaping business. Prosecutors said that move indebted Allen to Clemmons and that he sympathized with him, saying Allen believed the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department had a personal vendetta against Clemmons.
The defense said Allen only knew that Clemmons was “acting crazy.”
“This man has done nothing; he knew nothing,” Mazzone said. “There will be no evidence to show that he knew anything about any plan, that he didn’t plan anything, anytime, anywhere, with anyone. And to have him here sitting in that chair is despicable.”
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