Cold-case murder trial in Clark County that used genealogy database dismissed amid new evidence – Oregon Public Broadcasting

DNA

Vancouver Police Department detectives in 2019 touted cutting-edge technology for helping solve a two-decades-old homicide. But now that new evidence casts the arrest in doubt, the man who was charged for murder is now walking free.

Richard Knapp, 60, was released from the Clark County Jail on Wednesday. Detectives used a genealogy database three and a half years ago to charge him for the 1994 rape and murder of Audray Frasier.

Knapp was set to go to trial next week, but another suspect in the case has changed their story in a new deposition. Soon after that deposition, prosecutors called for a judge to dismiss Knapp’s first- and second-degree murder charges.

In an interview with OPB, Knapp’s attorneys said detectives missed key lines of inquiry before arresting Knapp. They described detectives as convinced the DNA evidence was a “silver bullet.”

“It’s, in my mind, a constant reminder that law enforcement can’t forgo good policework because they have a new toy or a new theory,” attorney Shon Bogar said.

Bogar and defense attorney Jack Green pointed to a recent deposition of Frasier’s neighbor, Scott Hinshaw, in which he admitted to having sex with Frasier the night she died. They said Hinshaw, whom detectives had listed as a suspect, has never faced charges.

Knapp’s arrest drew headlines as among many cases wherein investigators used genealogy and DNA evidence to thaw an unsolved murder case from years past. Similar techniques led to arrests of other criminals, such as the famous 2018 arrest of the Golden State Killer.

Richard Knapp appears in Clark County Superior Court in May 2019 after being accused of raping and murdering a Vancouver woman in 1994.

Molly Solomon / OPB

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik declined to discuss the new evidence or how prosecutors arrived at their decision to dismiss the case.

“We were no longer convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence we have as we understand it now, that Mr. Knapp could be convicted,” Golik said. “We were ethically bound at that point to dismiss the prosecution.”

The Vancouver Police Department, whose detectives spearheaded the initial murder investigation and Knapp’s arrest years later, did not respond to requests for comment.

Knapp’s defense attorneys told OPB they believed the cold case detectives had “good intentions,” but failed to rule out other possibilities and “put the blinders on” to close it.

Vancouver police officers found the body of Frasier — who was also known as Audrey Hollein — on July 17, 1994, while responding to a 9-1-1 call from her neighbor. According to court records, her body could be seen from a window outside the apartment.

Detectives found traces of DNA from multiple people. Detectives used the DNA to rule out suspects, cross-referencing their samples with what was found in the apartment, Knapp’s attorneys said.

Detectives never made any arrests in the case. Then it went cold.

Years later, Vancouver detectives Dustin Goudschaal and Neil Martin tried something new. As they told reporters at an April 2019 press conference, they enlisted Virginia-based Parabon Nanolabs, a company that analyzes DNA and uses it to create a genealogical profile.

According to news reports after Knapp’s arrest, the company used genetic material from the crime scene and uploaded it to a vast database to find similar genealogical matches.

That process pointed detectives to Knapp, who lived in Clark County, Washington, around the time of Frasier’s death. As detectives told reporters, they trailed Knapp for several months until they plucked a discarded cigarette butt and tested it for DNA evidence.

Knapp appeared as a match for semen cells found inside Frasier’s vagina. Detectives noted in an arrest warrant that Knapp, who had since moved to Fairview, Oregon, had been previously convicted of sexual assault in 1986.

On April 29, 2019, detectives stopped Knapp’s car and arrested him, where he remained incarcerated at the Clark County Jail until this week.

Knapp has never admitted in court to knowing or having a relationship with Frasier, according to his defense. He told detectives only that he used to have many relationships with women, used drugs and alcohol and frequented the same bars as Frasier.

His defense argued that DNA evidence alone doesn’t prove wrongdoing.

“The thing with DNA is it’s like a fingerprint. It doesn’t show when something was put there. It shows something was there. But then you have to look at other information to determine [what happened],” Bogar said. “Blood could be there for days before, just like semen.”

According to court records, forensic experts also found a separate trace of semen at the scene in 2017. The sample had been traced to Hinshaw, Frasier’s next-door neighbor who called the police to report finding her body.

Court records also say detectives interviewed Hinshaw after discovering the DNA sample, but it’s unclear if they ever questioned him as a suspect. Bogar and Green questioned Hinshaw under oath on Oct. 20, where he admitted to penetrating Frasier the night she was killed.

Hinshaw could not be reached for comment.

Golik, the prosecutor, declined to talk specifically about new evidence. He said only that “several witnesses… very, very significantly changed their story about what had occurred.”

The prosecution called for the case to be dismissed without prejudice, Golik said, which means Knapp could technically face charges again pending further investigation.

Knapp, through his attorneys, did not provide a comment about his release. His attorneys declined to say whether they will sue for damages related to his jailing.

“Richard spent 1,312 days in jail. He lost his home, his job, his life. His wife died in June 2021. She went to sleep knowing they were together, although he was in jail,” Bogar said in a prepared statement. “Richard has maintained his innocence since his arrest. And the decision today speaks for itself.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the legal term describing that prosecutors could file charges again pending further investigation.