When There’s a Homicide in King County, This Team Responds
Whenever there is a homicide in King County, Washington, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office responds to the crime scene with police investigators to observe the process. Those call-outs can happen at all hours of the day, including weekends and holidays.
“We try to respond out to the scene within an hour,” said Don Raz, who joined the team in 1997. “We’re there to provide any advice, assistance that we can have. That can be in the form of providing the detectives legal advice, reviewing search warrants. We go to the Medical Examiner’s office, observe the autopsy. We work with the [State Patrol] Crime Lab to find and secure appropriate testing of evidence. 24/7 we will have a deputy prosecutor who is able to go out.”
In 2022, Raz responded to 22 call-outs, and in 2023 he’s preparing for 13 of his murder cases to go to trial. There are 16 senior deputy prosecutors on the team including Raz, and typically the same prosecutor who responds to the initial scene carries the case through the trial, sometimes after years of case development and pre-trial work.
Next to his desk, Raz has a white board listing cases: red marker for unsolved murders, blue marker for active investigations and black in for cases pending trial. Raz can recall each one of the names on his whiteboard. He’s hopefully that one early case from 1997 may be solved this year with a break from genetic genealogy.
“The ones that involve children are the worst,” Raz said. “I distinctly remember a case in Bellevue where a father killed his little 5-year-old, and then proceeded to kill his dogs and then kill himself. And just how ironic it was — he did this in his home where he would have the World’s Greatest Father coffee cup, or an area of the house where it was all the daughter’s play things.”
The team is officially called MDOP: The Most Dangerous Offender Project. When it started in 1995 there were eight senior deputy prosecutors. Today there are 16.
The majority of murder cases that are immediately referred to King County prosecutors are rush filed. Unless charges are filed, court rules across Washington State only allow a suspect to be held for 72 hours after they’re booked. That means police are often working around the clock to get the evidence needed to charge a case — and having a prosecutor observing from the start that save precious time.
“We have a pretty good understanding of the facts that exist,” Raz said. “And how that’s important in two ways is, it not only informs us well as whether it’s appropriate to file a case. Maybe more importantly, it informs us when we shouldn’t be filing a case. Cases that otherwise would have come in and we would have filed them I think we do not file them now, because there are situations where first impressions are not correct. There (is) potentially a defense involved, like a self-defense claim that would preclude us from ever proving the case. At a minimum, in some cases is causes us to delay and get more information, which is still a dicey proposition. But we have an obligation to have a set of facts, and in some cases just additional investigation establishes we don’t have a chargeable case. … Not charging a case, when it is appropriate legally not to charge, is (as) important a responsibility of a prosecutor as charging a case.”
The best-trained prosecutors make it to the MDOP unit, Raz said, and they’re dedicated to putting the best prosecution together.
“And if that involves getting up in the middle of the night and going out in the rain and wind and the cold to get a leg up on prosecuting someone who deserves to be prosecuted, we’ll do it.”