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Should Lawmakers Let Cops Speak For Murder Victims?

King County Sheriff's Department
Arlene Roberts was strangled in 1978. The case was solved in 2010.

Who speaks for the murder victim when there’s no family left to tell their story?  That's a question the Washington state legislature is considering.

A bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 6099, would make it possible for law enforcement officers to be appointed to speak on behalf of deceased victims.

The impetus is a 38 year old murder case and a  Washington Supreme Court ruling that came down in 2010.

Cold Case

In 1978, 80-year-old Arlene Roberts was strangled with a blouse and a hairnet in her trailer home in south Seattle. The case was cold until it was finally solved 5 years ago.

Under a plea agreement, the man arrested for the murder, Ronald Wayne MacDonald, was told he’d walk free if he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

But, Detective Scott Tompkins, with the King County Sheriff’s Office, said he felt compelled to speak up in court because Roberts had no living relatives who might speak on her behalf.

“At sentencing, the judge would not have known anything about who she was as a person, who she was in life and those kind of things. It was all very sterile and that was one of the reasons I wanted to provide some context,” Tompkins told a legislative committee.

Judge Ignores Plea Deal, Sends Man To Prison

Detective Tompkins urged the judge to impose the maximum sentence of five years in prison for MacDonald and the judge did.

But, the conviction was overturned in 2010 by the Washington Supreme Court, which ruled that MacDonald’s right to due process had been violated because the detective spoke during the sentencing phase.

Bill Would Let Detectives Speak For Victims

Washington Senate Bill 6099, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, states that a prosecuting attorney would be permitted to appoint a law enforcement officer to speak on behalf of a murder victim if the deceased has no estate or surviving family.

Washington law has long allowed relatives of crime victims to make a statement at sentencing or in any proceeding where the defendant’s release is being considered.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.