The blood of a dead dog named Chief helped convict two Seattle men of murder Wednesday in the first trial ever in the country to use animal DNA as evidence.
The courtroom of King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones erupted into moans, sobs and profanity as soon as the verdicts were read. Courtroom officers had to step in to separate the families of the victims and the defendants on the orders of the judge.The officers then trooped into the hallway to maintain order.
The jury convicted Kenneth John Leuluaialii, 23, of aggravated first-degree murder and of one count of first-degree animal cruelty. Because prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, the only sentence is life in prison with no chance of release.
The jury also convicted George Tuilefano, 23, of two counts of first-degree murder. He faces a minimum of 20 years in prison on each count, served consecutively, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Tim Bradshaw said.
Tuilefano was acquitted of animal cruelty.
Both men stared down and ran their hands through their long hair after hearing the verdict.
The pair was accused of shooting to death 20-year-old Raquel Rivera and Jay Johnson, 22, along with their dog Chief, in the couple's South Park apartment in December 1996. Prosecutors say Leuluaialii and Tuilefano burst into the apartment demanding drugs and cash.
Rivera and Johnson died at the scene. Chief died about 30 hours later, despite efforts to save his life.
The blood of the dead dog helped convict the two, Bradshaw said later.
"We owe a debt to the scientific community," Bradshaw said.
The DNA tests were "exceedingly important," Bradshaw added. "We could not only identify it as dog blood, but individuate it to a single dog."
One unidentified juror said the evidence was very important because it placed the men at the scene.
But juror Mark Madden of Mercer Island said other evidence figured more prominently in his decision. A distinctive footprint on the front door of the slain couple's apartment that matched shoes worn by Leuluaialii was very convincing, Madden said.
Additionally, the testimony of witnesses who saw the pair at the apartment was convincing as well, he said.
The jury began deliberations Monday, following two months of testimony. Jurors signaled they'd reached a verdict Wednesday by midafternoon.
No sentencing date has been set.
The victims' families slipped from the courthouse without speaking publicly.