Rontarus Washington Jr. defense pursues independent lab to avoid alleged KBI bias in Lawrence murder case
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
Defense attorneys in a long-pending Lawrence murder case said Friday that they want an independent lab to complete additional DNA testing in the case to avoid what they call the “obvious bias” of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Rontarus Washington Jr., 23, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Nov. 7, 2014, death of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso, who was his neighbor at Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments. Washington’s first trial ended with a hung jury on Oct. 4, 2019, and the state wants to retry him.
Prior to a second trial, though, Washington’s appointed defense attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, have requested further testing for DNA that could be more conclusive than a partial sample that was available at the first trial. They want to test scrapings that the coroner took from underneath the victim’s fingernails.
However, Keck told Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria on Friday that the defense was “surprised” by what was shared at a hearing Monday.
Chief Assistant District Attorney CJ Rieg had said Monday that the KBI was not eager to reopen the case to do more testing, and that the lab had asked about the defense seeking an independent accredited lab. The defense had already requested that the KBI test several additional items prior to the first trial, and Rieg reiterated Friday that this testing could have been done years ago.
“This is all delay, delay, delay,” Rieg said.
Keck, however, said that in its reluctance to complete the tests, the KBI had shown an “obvious bias” against the defendant, and she thought that she and Hall would be ineffective if they did not seek an outside, independent lab. She said the defense also wanted to accommodate the KBI’s request.
Hall said the lab they found — the Serological Research Institute in Richmond, Calif. — would be able to complete the testing within the same time frame that Rieg said Friday the KBI could do, about 60 days. Rieg said she wanted more information about the lab’s accreditation before she would release the evidence.
McCabria said he was inclined to grant the request, but he also wanted assurance that the lab was qualified and accredited.
The next status hearing in the case is set for Friday, March 6. Washington has been in custody for approximately five years as the case has been delayed multiple times, primarily because of new evidence being sought or discovered.
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More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case
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