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Originally published January 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 18, 2008 at 2:08 AM

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Person of interest has led troubled life

The man investigators are focusing on in the New Year's Eve slaying of a Capitol Hill woman moved to Seattle with his ex-wife about five...

Seattle Times staff reporters

The man investigators are focusing on in the New Year's Eve slaying of a Capitol Hill woman moved to Seattle with his ex-wife about five years ago after convincing her they needed to start a new life.

But instead, the 29-year-old's history of mental-health issues, assaults and substance abuse in Florida and Georgia followed him here. He allegedly threatened to kill his pregnant ex-wife, and later attacked a roommate.

Now, as investigators await results of a DNA test that might tie the felon to the slaying of Shannon Harps, a clearer picture of the troubled man's life is developing through police and court documents and a friend's account.

Seattle police declined Thursday to identify the man as a suspect in the slaying of the 31-year-old Sierra Club worker, fatally stabbed outside her East Howell Street building shortly after 7 p.m. on New Year's Eve as she returned home with groceries. But Chief Gil Kerlikowske confirmed that the man was among the people being investigated.

Investigators have recovered a knife they believe was used in the slaying, and DNA taken from under Harps' fingernails is being tested.

The Times is not naming the man because he has not been charged in connection with the slaying.

A coffee-shop owner, for whom the man occasionally did odd jobs, said Thursday he could tell his friend's life was going downhill by the man's addresses.

When the man moved here with his ex-wife in 2003, the couple set up housekeeping in an expensive apartment in a secured building on East Olive Street.

But when he was arrested for probation violations on Jan. 4, he was living in a squalid housing complex on Summit Avenue East where recovering addicts, mental-health patients and recently released convicts share common bathrooms and sit outside on milk crates to smoke.

"I asked him what he was doing here and he shrugged," said the friend. "He said it was the best he could right now."

The friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the 29-year-old man as "very hip, very urban and very attractive."

He had attended Cornish College of the Arts and revered the artist Hieronymus Bosch, who used images of demons and machines to portray evil, confusion and human failings. His own work was "very dark," the friend said.

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Nevertheless, the friend said, "he was very, very sweet and helpful."

The friend would not answer questions about the 29-year-old's upbringing except to say that "he'd had a very hard life."

He was apparently seeking a fresh start when he and his ex-wife moved to Seattle. She later became pregnant, and the man's mother also moved here to live with them.

Court documents say police were called in October 2003 and again in July 2004 to the East Olive Street apartment the three shared.

When police arrived the second time, the mother said, her son "blew up" at something she'd said, began slamming his head into the wall and floor and threatened to kill both women, according to a police report.

The mother told police she watched while her son's face changed into that of a "monster."

He was arrested with methamphetamines in his pocket, according to police reports.

The man also was contacted by police for allegedly harassing pedestrians on Broadway and arrested in 2005 for assaulting a woman from whom he'd rented a room.

According to court documents, the man met the then-52-year-old woman at a 12-step meeting, invited her to coffee and was soon renting a basement room from her.

He was helpful with chores and kind to the woman's young daughters, according to court documents. All was well until he attended a party with the victim, began drinking and became "agitated and hostile," according to a police report.

When the victim led him from the party at the suggestion of the hostess, he "literally went crazy," running into traffic, challenging motorists to fight and shouting racial obscenities, the report says.

The victim told police he ripped the rearview mirror from her car and began punching her and hitting her with it.

He was convicted of assault and sentenced to nine months in King County Jail.

Department of Corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said Thursday the man's violent episodes have generally involved alcohol.

"He would have long stretches of being compliant [with the terms of his DOC supervised release]. Then he would drink alcohol and it would cause these relapses," Lewis said.

In 2005, the man's ex-wife filed for a protection order in Pierce County Superior Court, saying she feared for her life and that of her son.

"He wants to kidnap or do something wild then kill us," she wrote.

She claimed he had told her that it was his "fantasy" to kill her "in the woods."

Though the man has tested negative for drug use and had undergone mental-health treatment since his release from jail, he was arrested again at the end of 2006 when he allegedly pulled out a boxcutter and attacked a bouncer who tried to oust him from a nightclub. It isn't clear from court files whether he was ever charged in that case.

He was arrested in August for allegedly possessing alcohol and a knife, both forbidden by the terms of his release, but was found not guilty at a DOC hearing.

His next arrest came Jan. 4 when, according to DOC sources, a resident of the Summit Avenue East housing complex where the man lived complained that the 29-year-old had been drinking and was acting "belligerent" throughout the New Year's holiday weekend.

Numerous residents of the complex are in addiction-recovery programs and would have known the conditions of the man's release, according to several residents.

DOC officers who responded noted the similarity in appearance between the man and the man police were searching for in connection with Harps' death, a law-enforcement source said.

The man was interviewed by Seattle police homicide detectives from around 11 that night until about 3 a.m. on Jan. 5, but he denied involvement in the slaying, the source said. He repeatedly denied being in violation of his DOC supervision.

After nearly four hours, the man requested an attorney and was taken to the King County Jail, the source said.

On Jan. 9, the man was transferred from the King County Jail to the Monroe Correctional Complex to await a DOC administrative hearing. The man was supposed to be released from custody Wednesday but is continuing to be held for a mental evaluation, the source said.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf and staff reporters Natalie Singer, Sharon Chan and Nancy Bartley contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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