Two men, in what is believed to be the first criminal case ever to use dog DNA as evidence, were convicted yesterday of killing a South Park couple and their dog.
The convictions by a King County Superior Court jury of Kenneth Leuluaialii, 23, and George Tuilefano, 24, momentarily triggered in the crowded courtroom a heated verbal exchange between the families of the victims and relatives of the defendants - who, for the last three months, have sat just a few feet away from each other during the often-intense trial.
When one of the victim's relatives yelled out, in apparent relief and joy - "No more! No more! No more!" - Leuluaialii's mother turned around and shouted: "He's not a killer! He's not a killer. . . ."
After a couple more angry outbursts between the families, King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones, who'd already entered his chambers, walked back outside and admonished both sides before restoring order in the courtroom.
Leuluaialii was found guilty of two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for the deaths of Jay Johnson and his girlfriend, Raquel Rivera. He also was found guilty of animal cruelty for shooting and killing the couple's dog - and will receive a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The second defendant Tuilefano, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. He faces a minimum 20-year sentence for each count. But prosecutors could seek an exceptionally longer sentence.
No sentencing date has been set for either defendant.
Relatives of the victims, some of whom never missed a day of testimony, expressed relief that the trial was finally over.
"I feel they got what they deserved," said a teary-eyed Juanita Rivera, mother of Raquel Rivera, who was surrounded by a circle of friends. "It's been very difficult for me - for all of us. But I can go on with my life now, and my daughter can rest in peace."
During the trial, Rivera brought pictures of her daughter and Johnson to the courtroom - pictures of them hugging and smiling. Raquel Rivera, she said, was always smiling.
But yesterday her mother noted that her daughter, who wanted to become a flight attendant, was killed before she had the opportunity to make her dream come true.
"I don't have words to tell you how that makes me feel about the defendants," she said.
Jay Johnson's relatives, meanwhile, were weary after listening to three months of testimony, but pleased about the verdict.
"I'm just glad it's over," an aunt, who asked not to be identified, said as she stood outside in front of the courthouse. "They (the defendants) have no remorse - but God will have to take care of that."
The murders attracted national attention after King County senior deputy co-prosecutors Timothy Bradshaw and Gregory Jackson used DNA - which contains genetic code - taken from the slain dog as evidence to identify the killers.
Bradshaw insisted it played a major role during the trial.
"I think it was exceedingly important," Bradshaw said, adding that it enabled them to determine that blood found on clothing linked to the defendants was not only from a dog, but from Chief, the mixed pit-bull belonging to the victims.
Reportedly Leuluaialii and Tuilefano, along with at least three other accomplices who have since reached plea agreements with prosecutors in exchange for testifying against the two murder defendants, were hoping to find drugs.
But during the trial one accomplice testified that no drugs were found at the house, and police and prosecutors haven't linked the victims to drug dealing.
Attorneys for the defendants argued throughout the trial that their clients were not responsible for the murders - that they were not even at the crime scene.
The jurors, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, listened to weeks of confusing and contradictory - and seemingly bizarre testimony - from a range of witnesses.
One witness testified he watched the defendants commit the murders, another testified he saw someone else commit the murders; another witness - already in jail and convicted of another murder - testified the defendants could not have murdered Johnson or Rivera because he killed them.
But in the end, it took the 12 jurors fewer than three days to conclude the defendants were guilty of what prosecutors coined "the South Park slaughters."