Retrial of accused Lakewood Four getaway driver set to begin
It was one of the most shocking crimes in Puget Sound history – four police officers sitting down in a coffee shop ahead of their Sunday morning shift in 2009 were gunned down in cold blood. The ambush-murders of the Lakewood Four, as they would come to be known, led to a massive two-day manhunt for their killer, Arkansas felon Maurice Clemmons. The manhunt ended two nights later when Clemmons was shot and killed by a lone Seattle police officer he encountered.
Clemmons had a long and violent criminal history that included multiple felony convictions in Arkansas and Washington, starting when he was 17. Several psychologists, criminal profilers, and others warned along the way that he was likely to commit more violent crimes.
He had been released on bail for separate charges just six days before he walked into the then-Forza coffee shop in Parkland. Then, without saying a word, Clemmons pulled out a 9mm Glock 17 and opened fire on the four officers – none of whom he had any history with.
39-year-old Sergeant Mark Renninger and 40-year-old Officer Tina Griswold both died almost instantly after being shot in the head. 37-year-old Officer Ronald Owens died from a gunshot wound to the neck as he tried to draw his weapon and 42-year-old Officer Greg Richards died from a gunshot wound to the head, but not before returning fire and striking Clemmons in the abdomen.
Witnesses reported Clemmons fled the coffee shop dripping blood and got in the passenger side of a white truck that was running nearby. It was later determined to be driven by now-50-year-old Darcus Allen, who would be charged with aggravated first-degree murder for being the alleged getaway driver in the Lakewood Four murders.
Allen has always maintained he had no idea what Clemmons planned to do when he drove him near the coffee shop and did not know what he’d done when he drove him away from the scene. Allen said he did not realize anything was wrong until he noticed Clemmons was injured, at which point he claimed he abandoned the truck and Clemmons, saying he wanted no part in this.
However, prosecutors found no evidence of Allen ever abandoning the truck.
A jury in 2011 convicted Allen on four counts of first-degree murder, but did not find evidence to support the aggravating factors which would have led to an automatic life without parole sentence. The jury did find there was evidence to support sentencing enhancement factors such as knowing the victims were law enforcement. Allen was sentenced to 420 years in prison.
But in 2015, the State Supreme Court vacated the convictions, citing prosecutor misconduct because of language the deputy prosecutor used during closing arguments.
Prosecutors hoped to retry Allen on aggravated first-degree murder charges with sentencing enhancements, but Allen’s defense team would appeal, arguing the retrial was double jeopardy.
A series of appeals ensued. It all culminated in a final appellate decision from a three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week, rejecting the final appeal from Allen’s defense team.
That decision cleared the way for the retrial to begin. Allen was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and sentencing enhancements, but not the aggravating factors, which would mandate automatic life without parole. Since the original jury had already cleared Allen of those charges, retrying them would have been double jeopardy. However, since the original jury convicted him of first-degree murder and sentencing enhancements, those did not violate double jeopardy laws.
Pierce County prosecutors say they expected jury selection to get underway Thursday, with opening statements likely near the end of the month.