Wash. Supreme Court overturns murderer's death penalty

The state Supreme Court overturned a convicted murderer's death penalty today, saying evidence from his rescinded rape convictions and a prosecutor's misconduct require a new sentence.

The 8-1 ruling came in the consolidated case of Allen Eugene Gregory, who appealed his convictions for rape in 2000 and his aggravated murder conviction from 2001.

The majority, led by Justice Bobbe Bridge, overturned the rape convictions, saying the trial judge should have considered evidence that may have helped Gregory's defense.

The justices then threw out Gregory's death sentence, saying evidence of the rapes influenced his sentencing for murder. The court also said it would have overturned the death sentence anyway, because the prosecutor committed misconduct by improperly suggesting life in prison was too lenient for Gregory.

Gregory's murder conviction was sent back to Pierce County Superior Court for resentencing. He was originally sentenced in May 2001 for the rape, robbery and killing of Geneine Ann Harshfield, a neighbor in Tacoma's Hilltop area.

Gregory had been a suspect in the death of Harshfield, 43, who was stabbed in her home after she returned home from her bartending job in July 1996. But the murder went unsolved for two years, until police drew Gregory's blood for evidence after his arrest in the separate rape case.

Tacoma police matched Gregory's DNA to semen stains from Harshfield's bed and her body.

Justices Richard Sanders and Mary Fairhurst agreed with the Supreme Court's result, but said they differed on the reasoning. Justice Jim Johnson dissented from the ruling, writing that the ruling "comes in total disregard of Washington's victims of crimes rights."