Two men were convicted of murder Wednesday in what is believed to be the first U.S. criminal trial in which animal DNA was introduced as evidence.
A King County Superior Court jury convicted Kenneth John "Sable Claus" Leuluaialii on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of animal cruelty.
George "Scoopy"' Tuilefano was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, but acquitted on an animal cruelty count.
Leuluaialii and Tuilefano were accused of killing Raquel Rivera, 20, Jay Johnson, 22, and the couple's dog after kicking in the front door of their home and demanding marijuana, cocaine or cash.
To bolster varying witness accounts, chiefly by members of the Mad Pack gang with which the two 24-year-old defendants were associated, prosecutors presented evidence that two jackets and a pair of pants bore bloodstains from the dog, a pit bull-Labrador mix that died 30 hours after the attack in a south Seattle neighborhood on Dec. 9, 1996.
Following the brief court session to announce the verdicts, an angry shouting exchange broke out between relatives of the victims and those of the defendants.
That prompted Judge Richard A. Jones to come back out of his chambers and tell the mother of Leuluaialii to control herself. He ordered the two groups to leave the courtroom separately.
Sheriff's officers were in the hallway to maintain order.
Jury deliberations began Monday. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against Leuluaialii, who now faces a mandatory life prison term. Tuilefano faces a minimum of 20 years.
Testimony in the case lasted two months. Defense lawyers attacked the credibility of the witnesses, disputed ownership of the jackets and challenged the legitimacy of the dog DNA tests.
Evidence showed Rivera was chased down and killed with a shot from a gun placed in her mouth and Johnson was tortured with gunshots in both legs before being finished off with two shots to the abdomen. The dog was shot and then thrown against a wall.
Referring to the dog, Chief, in his opening statement July 9, deputy prosecutor Timothy Bradshaw said, "The irony will be that the witness who could never speak, even when he was alive, will present the most eloquent of evidence."
Prosecutors said they believed it was the first U.S. criminal trial to use animal DNA as evidence.
Defense lawyers did not immediately comment after the verdicts, but had said during the trial there were numerous grounds for appeal, including the judge's refusal to hold a hearing on whether to admit the dog DNA evidence.
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