An unsolved murder of an Indian American software engineer from Redmond, Washington, still resonates for a police lieutenant who was a part of the initial investigation.
Redmond, Washington, police Lt. Brian Coats recalls all that he learned about Arpana Jinaga, who was strangled in her apartment in 2008, her body doused with bleach, toilet-bowl cleaner and motor oil in an apparent attempt to destroy DNA evidence of rape, the Seattle Times reported.
“She was a brilliant person. This is a person who is living her dream. She had it all going on,” Coats told the Seattle Times in a June 14 article.
Jinaga, a 24-year-old software engineer from India, had attended Rutgers University, won an international software award and was a rising star at the Bellevue company where she worked. She was outgoing and friendly, joining a motorcycle club, practicing tae kwon do, and volunteering at an animal shelter and fire department, all within eight months of moving to Redmond, he told the publication.
DNA found at the crime scene was ultimately linked to three men, but only one was charged with murder.
On June 11, that man, Emanuel Fair, 35, was found not guilty of first-degree murder with sexual motivation by a King County jury. It was the second time Fair had been tried in connection with Jinaga’s killing. The first time, in 2017, the jury deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.
Fair, the second-longest-serving inmate in the downtown Seattle facility after being booked into jail on November 2010, was released June 11, three hours after the jury delivered its not-guilty verdict, according to a jail spokeswoman, the Times said.
Defense attorney Benjamin Goldsmith said evidence found at Jinaga’s apartment and produced during the investigation pointed to one of her neighbors as the likely killer. The man was the last person to call her the night she was killed, he tried to destroy evidence of the calls, and he attempted to go to Canada after the homicide but was turned away, Goldsmith said.
Court records show prosecutors did not believe they had enough evidence to charge Jinaga’s neighbor, who met Fair the night of the homicide, the report added.
According to court records and Chief Criminal Deputy Mark Larson, prosecutors were barred from arguing that Fair and the neighbor were both involved in Jinaga’s killing because there wasn’t evidence to support the state’s theory the men acted as accomplices. That decision was upheld by the state Court of Appeals following Fair’s first trial.
The Seattle Times is not naming Jinaga’s neighbor because he has not been charged.
According to court records, on Halloween 2008, Jinaga and several of her neighbors at the Valley View Apartments threw a large party, with guests moving between their units. Fair, a guest of another woman living in the building, met Jinaga and her neighbor that night.
Around 3 a.m. on Nov. 1, Jinaga left a gathering in a ground-floor apartment and returned to her apartment on the third floor, the report notes.
In the intervening hours, neighbors who lived on either side of Jinaga’s apartment heard muffled moaning sounds but assumed she and a partner were having consensual sex. Police believe she was killed around 8 a.m.
Two days later, a friend of Jinaga’s father went to check up on her because she hadn’t answered phone calls from her family in India. He and Jinaga’s next-door neighbor discovered her locked door had been kicked in and found her nude body on her bedroom floor. Jinaga had been gagged, brutally beaten and most likely raped. She died from ligature strangulation, a bootlace the suspected murder weapon, the report said.
From the beginning, it was a complex case, complicated by the fact so many people had attended the party the night before she was killed, said Coats, the Redmond police lieutenant.
“It was a brutal scene. It was just gruesome,” he said. “I hope I never have to investigate a case like this again.”