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Looking back at Titus case
July 2, 1981
"I think that if a person were to sit down and read the entire transcript, you would know that Steve Titus is guilty. Maybe he just blocks it out."
By Paul Henderson
Regrets, but no apologies.
Detective Sgt. Dave Hart, Port of Seattle police: "We do feel bad about what happened, but I believe that everybody was just trying to do their job."
Christopher Washington, King County deputy prosecutor: "On one hand you've got to say there was a mistake. But I don't make the decision on guilt or innocence. The jury does that."
Washington, who prosecuted the case, said he did nothing wrong and "can't apologize to Titus." In spite of its extraordinary twist, Washington said, the Titus case had merit when it went into court.
However, the deputy prosecutor added that he was sorry for the suffering the prosecution caused.
In Titus' mind, that is not enough. He suggests that Washington should share the experience to understand the pain.
"They can't just give me a cookie and say good-bye," Titus said yesterday, dwelling bitterly on his financial ruin, the loss of his job and the empty feeling he experienced in a county-jail cell the day he was convicted.
"I was only there overnight," Titus said, "but it seemed forever. I was looking at the ceiling, wondering where I might tie the rope. It was only a slim hope that kept me alive."
Titus was convicted of the charge March 4, but the conviction was overturned June 8 on the basis of evidence turned up in a Times investigation. The charge against Titus finally was dismissed Tuesday.
A month ago, few people were listening to what Titus had to say. Now, he has an audience. And Titus has lots more to say.
Jeff Jones, Titus' attorney, plans to file a complaint with Port police.
On Port of Seattle police, who investigated the rape which occurred on port property:
"This wasn't just a case of mistaken identity," he said. "This was manipulation and fabrication of evidence by police officers.
"Port police made no attempt to contact my parents or the friend who was with me in my apartment at the time of the crime. These were my alibi witnesses, and police never even met them until four months later in court.
"The police lied about times to make me look bad, and they manufactured evidence that was never in my car. This was a deliberate attempt by port police to railroad me into prison."
On the special assault unit of the prosecutor's office:
"Washington swept all of the inconsistencies in the police investigation under the table. From start to finish, the only important thing to that man was winning the case. There was no physical evidence to link me to the rape.
"The rape car had velvet seats and mine were vinyl. The rapist was wearing a three-piece suit, and I don't even own a two-piece suit. Anyone could have seen that this was a weak case based on circumstantial evidence. They were playing games with someone's life, and it didn't matter to them that it was an innocent man."
Jeff Jones, Titus's attorney, said he would file a complaint with Port of Seattle police charging that the vindication of Titus substantiated his client's accusation of dishonest investigation by police.
Titus gave investigating officers a voluntary statement the day of his arrest. It was not until four months later, two days before the trial, that the statement was put in a written report.
The report said Titus told officers he had left his parents' home in Burien at 6:10 p.m. on the night of the crime and that he had arrived at his Kent apartment at 6:55 p.m.
Titus maintains that he told the officers he arrived home at 6:30 p.m.
Because the victim testified she got into the rapist's car at 6:30 p.m., the time element was crucial to Titus' defense. Titus has accused police of lying as well in trial testimony that a brown-vinyl folder, an article that the rape victim remembered, was in the back seat of Titus' car when he was stopped for questioning.
An officer who inventoried the contents of Titus' car that night made no mention of such a folder in his written report.
The Times investigation into Titus' case began April 9. There was a small, but ultimately cruel, victory for Titus the next week.
After listening to a Times reporter detail discrepancies in the Titus investigation, Neil Moloney, then chief of Port of Seattle police, agreed to have senior officers reopen the case.
At the same time, the prosecutor's office announced that it was reviewing legal proceedings in the Titus conviction.
Both reported their findings within several days: No fault was found at either end.
Chief Moloney talked a hard line on integrity. "I've told my officers where I stand" on manipulation or fabrication of evidence, he said April 14. His message to his officers, he said, was: "There will be no quiet resignation. The case will go to the prosecutor's office, and I hope your ass (the police officer's) ends up in prison."
Moloney now is chief of the State Patrol. From his Olympia office yesterday, Moloney said he still could find no fault with the Titus investigation.
Sergeant Hart said port police had been advised not to comment on the Titus case because a lawsuit was expected.
Titus acknowledged he was considering a lawsuit. "It appears that a lawsuit is the only way justice will be done," he said.
Washington acknowledged yesterday that the outcome of the case indicated the polygraph, or lie detector, was not infallible. Titus failed a polygraph test before his trial.
Dewey Gillespie, a Lynnwood polygraph operator who administered the test, also was disturbed.
"All I can say is that the polygraph can't be 100 per cent accurate," he said. "I guess that I've tested 6,000 persons in 17 years. They're all nervous. You bet. I've never professed that the polygraph was an absolute."
Before going into private practice, Gillespie was the polygraph specialist of the Seattle Police Department. In view of the Titus case, he was asked, should the prosecutors let a person's fate ride on the findings of a machine?
"That would have to be the prosecutor's decision," he said, "I'd rather have 1,000 guilty suspects beat the machine than to have on innocent man fail."
In court, the victim identified Titus as her attacker. Now, police say she has identified another man from a photograph.
The suspect, a 28-year-old South King County man, was arrested Tuesday in Los Angeles on a King County warrant charging him with raping a hitchhiker east of Kent last month.
Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, University of Washington psychology professor and an expert on memory distortion in eyewitness testimony, said the police, courts and juries could draw a lesson from the Titus case.
"Contrary to the common perception, human memory is not an exact mirror of our experience," she said. "I hope that the Titus case will long be remembered as an example of how careful we must be when human memory is involved in a prosecution."
Titus and his fiancee, Mona Imholt, had set a June wedding date before the trouble began. Now, they are looking at a wedding next year. Legal fees have put Titus almost $10,000 in debt.
Titus says much of his bitterness stems from having lost a career job that took him five years to earn. He was terminated, as a supervisor at Yegen Seafoods May 1. His employer says the decision was based on job performance.
"I never once doubted that Steve was innocent," said his boss, Bob Dennis. "But this was an emotionally destroying thing, and Steve reached the point where he just couldn't cope with the responsibilities."
Titus now draws unemployment and is looking for a job.
Assistance in research by Frederick Case, Times staff reporter.
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