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New Turn in Old Murder Case: Court Rules Against Cop, Not Suspect

Washington State high court justices were sharply split Thursday on a 37-year old murder case involving a determined Seattle police detective who testified as a victim advocate. In 1978, an 80-year old woman was attacked, tied up and strangled in her mobile home, but no suspect was ever found, and the case languished as an inactive file for years.

But in 2010, Detective Scott Tompkins matched fingerprints in the old case to Ronald Wayne McDonald, who had a history of burglary arrests and who lived near the victim at the time of her murder. Tompkins traced McDonald to Reno, Nevada, confronted him, got DNA and fingerprint evidence, and brought him back to Washington to face first degree murder charges.

But because the case was so old and the evidence was sketchy, King County prosecutors plea-bargained with McDonald, who eventually settled for a drastically reduced charge and a five year suspended sentence in return for his guilty plea.

That angered Tompkins, who stood up at McDonald's sentencing and demanded that he get the maximum sentence. He pointed out that there were no friends, no family members to speak for the victim.

A majority of the high court held that Tompkins went too far in persuading the trial judge to impose a harsher sentence than McDonald and prosecutors had agreed to. They ruled that he became an agent of the state, rather than merely an advocate for the victim.

McDonald now has the option of voiding his guilty plea or insisting on the lesser sentence he agreed to.

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