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Originally published June 17, 2010 at 9:52 AM | Page modified June 17, 2010 at 8:43 PM

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Clemmons' sister sentenced to five years in prison

LaTanya Clemmons has been sentenced to five years in prison for helping the suspected getaway driver after her brother, Maurice Clemmons, murdered four Lakewood police officers in November.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The sister of the man who murdered four Lakewood police officers in November was sentenced Thursday to an unusually long term of five years in prison, giving a potential glimpse of the future for six related cases still pending.

LaTanya Clemmons dabbed her eyes as she was sentenced for helping hide the man who allegedly acted as a getaway driver for her brother, Maurice Clemmons.

LaTanya Clemmons, 34, had no criminal history and potentially faced six to 12 months under the standard sentencing range. But prosecutors argued the extraordinary case merited an extra-long sentence.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend agreed. She told Clemmons that although her actions "would not have changed the fate of the officers," they did delay the capture of the getaway driver and prolonged the anxiety of the community and the officers' grieving families.

The families of Sgt. Mark Renninger and officers Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens and Greg Richards had vigilantly attended each day of the trial.

Thursday, Griswold's brother, Tom DeLong, spoke to LaTanya Clemmons on their behalf.

"Although their wounds may scab over, they will never heal," said DeLong.

DeLong recalled getting news that a Seattle police officer had killed Maurice Clemmons at 3 a.m. on Dec. 1 — 40 hours after the worst attack against law enforcement in state history.

"When that drug-dealing rapist cop-killer was shot in the street, I tasted justice, and it tasted good," DeLong said. "We expect to get another helping of justice today, and we expect to get six other helpings," he said, referring to pending cases.

Clemmons declined to speak to the officers' families. Her attorney, Helen Whitener, said Clemmons planned to apologize, but was too shaken by DeLong's statements.

"She is sorry for what her brother has done and will pay for that for the rest of her life," Whitener said.

During the two-week trial, Whitener tried to convince the jury that Clemmons did not know that the getaway driver, Darcus Allen, had been involved in the shooting and didn't know that police were looking for him.

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But the primary evidence against Clemmons was her own words: a rambling taped interview played for the jury in which, after hours of questioning, she admitted hearing Allen confess to a role in the shooting.

The trial also disclosed, for the first time, chilling details about the chaotic shooting inside the Forza Coffee shop, and law enforcement's exhaustive efforts to find Maurice Clemmons.

The eight-man, four-woman jury convicted Clemmons of two counts of rendering criminal assistance related to the hours after the shooting, but acquitted her of two counts related to her actions in the days that followed.

Two jurors, including Ray Ellsworth of Tacoma, attended the sentencing. "We wanted to see justice through," said Ellsworth, 67.

He said the jury was so split on the charges that it nearly hung before reaching a compromise. "We knew she was guilty (of the charges related) of actions on Nov. 29."

At sentencing, Whitener said it was noteworthy that Clemmons had no criminal history after growing up with many brothers — including Maurice Clemmons — who were in and out of prison.

She moved to Washington in March 2004, following dozens of other Clemmons family members over the past three decades who fled poverty in the Arkansas Delta.

She is a single mother to a kindergarten-age daughter, and worked two jobs, one at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, the other at the Muckleshoot Casino.

Whitener said LaTanya Clemmons tried to get her brother mental-health treatment in May 2009, when Maurice Clemmons had a psychotic breakdown that left him convinced he was the messiah.

Kevin McCann, one of two prosecutors, said the sentence fit the crime.

"Prior to Nov. 29, 2009, if you walked in a coffee shop and saw four armed officers having coffee or breakfast, there would be a sense of safety," he said in court. "Following Nov. 29, 2009, you would no longer have that sense of security."

Clemmons was the first to go to trial among the so-called "Clemmons Seven" who've been charged with aiding Maurice Clemmons. LaTanya Clemmons' case was viewed as the weakest among them, and other defense attorneys attended the trial as prosecutors disclosed evidence likely to be used against them.

Four trials — against Clemmons' brother, aunt and two friends — are scheduled for Sept. 7. Except for Clemmons' brother, all face more serious charges that LaTanya Clemmons faced.

The alleged getaway driver, Darcus Allen, is scheduled to go to trail in March 2011 on aggravated first-degree-murder charges, a potential death-penalty offense.

After the sentencing, Renninger's widow, Kim, said, "I'm very happy with what happened. I have no complaints. And I'm ready for the next one."

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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