Friday, January 25, 2008

DNA test fails to link man to stabbing death

By Jennifer Sullivan, Christine Clarridge and Brian Alexander

Seattle Times staff reporters

DNA testing of a Seattle man who was considered the key "person of interest" in the New Year's Eve stabbing death of Capitol Hill resident Shannon Harps did not link him to the slaying.

The 29-year-old man has been in jail since Jan. 4, when state Department of Corrections (DOC) officers accused of him of violating the terms of his early prison release by drinking. Because he has a violent criminal past, lives in Harps' neighborhood and looks like a man whom witnesses said they saw running away after the stabbing, his DNA was tested against evidence found at the crime scene.

A source close to the investigation confirmed Wednesday that the man's DNA didn't match that found on a knife and under Harps' fingernails.

"Forensic testing and investigative efforts completed to date have not provided sufficient information for an arrest," Seattle police Sgt. Deanna Nollette said.

Harps, a 31-year-old Sierra Club worker, was fatally stabbed outside her East Howell Street building shortly after 7 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

Nollette said the case remains a high priority for police and that extra patrols have been assigned to the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where residents had mixed reactions to Wednesday's news.

"Violence of that nature is a little intimidating, and it does shake up a person," said Seattle University student Karen Shipman, though she said she still feels safe walking around Harps' neighborhood. "I feel safer here than I do downtown."

Terrell Terry, another Capitol Hill resident, said he's generally unconcerned about Harps' killer potentially being on the loose.

"It's just an isolated incident," he said, adding that he felt less safe when he lived in San Francisco and Raleigh, N.C.

But one woman, who said she was too concerned about her safety to give her name, said she recently moved to the neighborhood and doesn't feel safe there. She said she always makes sure her doors are locked and intends to buy a Doberman.

Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel said more than 1,000 people have called 911 to report details about the slaying or information about the bearded man pictured in a police sketch. Police are asking Capitol Hill residents to "remain vigilant" and report anything suspicious.

"That could be that one small thing that somebody heard or saw that puts this together," Kappel added.

The 29-year-old man, meanwhile, could be released from the Monroe Correctional Complex, where DOC is holding him, after an administrative hearing today.

He has a history of mental-health issues, assaults and substance abuse in Florida, Georgia and Washington.

According to police, his contacts with Seattle police included an incident in which he threatened to kill his ex-wife, attacked a nightclub bouncer with a box cutter and harassed pedestrians on Broadway. In another incident, he was convicted of assault and sentenced to nine months in jail after attacking a woman from whom he had rented a room.

He has always denied involvement in Harps' slaying.

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