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Convicted killer may get second trial

It took her a year to reach a conviction through a jury verdict.

It took him two years to get the conviction appealed.

Robert Gene Covarrubias, imprisoned since his April 2006 murder conviction for the death of 15-year-old Melissa Leigh Carter, received an order for a new trial from the Washington Court of Appeals on Jan. 6.

The ruling overturned a conviction on a case tried by Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly.

"We hold that sufficient evidence supports the conviction, but because cumulative error prejudiced him, we reverse and remand for a new trial," wrote Judge Elaine Houghton in her court opinion.

So while Houghton and her two concurring Appellant Judges J. Robin Hunt and Joel Penoyar found the conviction suitable, they said the trial unduly put prejudice on Covarrubias and his case.

Houghton cited 16 pieces of evidence admitted into court and given to defense attorneys very late in the trial's process. She said any one of the late submissions would not have warranted a retrial, but the combination of all 16 was too much to allow.

"I am really disappointed," Kelly said. "Especially with the way it was worded. It makes it sound like we withheld the evidence, which wasn't the case."

Kelly said new information constantly was being picked up through the trial, evidence her team found too compelling to leave out of the proceedings.

Now Kelly has to choose among her three options: Retry the case, let it go or appeal to the Supreme Court.

Kelly said she would retry before allowing Covarrubias to go free.

"It may be tough, but I believe we have the ability to lean on the record from the previous case," she said.

"For instance if we cannot find a witness, we may be able to use witness statements from the original trial."

Kelly said she already had been approached by several witnesses of the original case.

"They were witnesses that made me surprised that they came forward," she said.

"But they told me the case really changed their lives and they wanted to make sure things stayed they way they went the first time."

Covarrubias, who was 25 at the time of conviction, was found guilty of strangling 15-year-old Melissa Leigh Carter to death after raping her in late December 2004. He received a sentence of 34 years in prison.

Three teenagers found Carter's body along the Waterfront Trail in Port Angeles on Dec. 26, 2004.

DNA taken from her body matched samples taken from Covarrubias, who maintained they had consensual sex and that someone else was guilty of her death.

However, one of the prosecution's key witnesses placed Covarrubias near the scene of the crime with a teenage girl the night of Carter's death.



Reach Evan McLean at

emclean@sequimgazette.com.





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