Police in Kent are still trying to figure out who killed a 34-year-old paraplegic woman, found dead last week in her home. Their investigation takes them back 15 years.
The cause of Lakessha Johnson's death was not immediately obvious. But an autopsy produced a surprising conclusion. She died of a gunshot wound suffered back in 1996. The King County Medical Examiner termed the manner of her death homicide.
"They subsequently identified evidence in the scope of the autopsy which attributed her death to homicidal violence due to this shooting injury that she had sustained back in the 1990s" said Kent Police commander Pat Lowery.
Police call it a "delayed homicide." Dr. James Gill, deputy chief medical examiner for Bronx County did a study and found 42 cases of delayed homicides in a two-year period in the New York City area. Dr. Gill says paralysis is common in victims of delayed homicide.
"And when you're paralyzed, even though you're alive, you still have an increased risk for complications from that and usually they're related to infections" said Dr. Gill.
So, the question: How does an infection years after the paralysis result in a finding of homicide?
"If we can show that was related to the quadriplegia, for example, which was related to the spinal cord injury which was due to a gunshot wound, now we have the gunshot wound as the cause of death and that's going to make the manner of death a homicide" explained Dr. Gill.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist says it's called "proximate cause," a direct, unbroken link between the original injury and the death.
"Often-times, that will be the key question when you're prosecuting a homicide that resulted years later from an assault, that issue of proximate cause."
Kent Police commander Pat Lowery says even if they can figure out who shot this 34-year-old woman when she was 19 -years-old, the attacker might not face new charges.
"When this case occurred, a number of the laws that we use today were significantly different and it will take a legal analysis to make a determination of what laws would apply to this situation regarding her death" said Lowery.
Prosecutor Lindquist says the law was different when this woman was shot.
"It was required that the death must occur within three years and a day of the act that caused the death. But in 1997, the legislature eliminated that common law rule so that time is no longer a factor" said Lindquist.
In the Kent case, it appears the woman was shot before the law changed so even if police can identify her attacker, he might not face new charges.
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