Emanuel Fair stayed in the King County Correctional Facility for nearly nine years for a crime he did not commit based on a botched and “bizarre” murder investigation driven by racial discrimination, a recent lawsuit alleges.
On Oct. 30, 2010, Fair was placed in a Seattle holding cell while detectives gathered more evidence against him for the 2008 sexual assault and murder of a 24-year-old software engineer and Indian immigrant named Arpana Jinaga.
Jinaga’s naked body was discovered by a close friend and an immediate neighbor in her home on Nov. 1, 2008. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled.
Fair met Jinaga hours before she was killed at a Halloween party in her apartment complex. His attorneys allege Fair was isolated as the main suspect for her murder because of his race and his past criminal record.
He was convicted of third-degree rape in 2004. The suit contends detectives aligned evidence to match their theory and disregarded half a dozen non-Black suspects in the case.
The court documents detail negligence by detectives and the outsourcing of a famous psychic medium to opine on the case. Fair was tried for Jinaga’s sexual assault twice and was acquitted after his second trial in June 2019. He’s now struggling to reconstruct his life, Fair and his attorneys said.
“I’ve never seen a worse case,” Corinne Sebren, one of Fair’s lawyers, who specializes in civil rights cases, told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “There’s very little justice left to salvage.”
In a 2020 interview, the lead detective said Fair stood out to him because he was “the only African-American male at the party” and looked like an “outsider.”
Fair filed a lawsuit against King County, Redmond, the Redmond Police Department and the lead detective on Dec. 29. His legal team expanded the lawsuit in late March, adding ten more pages of allegations and the prosecutor on the case and other detectives that handled the case to the list of defendants.
Fair said the lawsuit, obtained by Atlanta Black Star, “is the closest thing to justice I can get.”
Fair was staying with his friend Leslie Potts on Oct. 31, 2008, in Valley View Apartments when he attended the party that Potts and other neighbors organized. Potts, Jinaga and two others neighbors decorated and opened up their units to allow partygoers to go in and out freely.
Fair said he went inside Jinaga’s apartment various times throughout the party. He used the bathroom on one occasion. Jinaga showed Fair and other partygoers something on her computer on another occasion.
According to the Rolling Stone report, most of the people at the party that night didn’t remember Fair’s name. He was staying with Potts in the mostly white neighborhood that weekend, and his attendance at the party was impromptu. Most of the partygoers reportedly referred to the chocolate-skinned man as “the Black guy” in his police file.
The lawsuit alleges there was heavy drinking at the party of 40 to 50 people. Some guests were rowdy, but nothing out of the ordinary, it says. Everyone seemed to have a good time, the lawsuit alleges.
The party ended between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., around the same time witnesses saw Jinaga going back to her apartment. According to court documents, a neighbor who did not attend the party reported seeing a man with olive complexion and light stubble standing in Jinaga’s doorway, talking to someone inside around 3 a.m.
Fair went inside Pott’s apartment between 2:30 and 3 a.m. after listening to music with Jinaga’s immediate neighbor Cameron Johnson. He made calls to a few friends, including apparently pocket-dialing Potts.
He slept with Potts in her bed and woke up the next morning before 10 a.m., after which he helped her and other neighbors clean up the complex, according to the complaint. No one cleaning up reported seeing anything suspicious. Residents said Fair appeared relaxed when he hung out at Potts’ apartment for three days over the weekend.
Jinaga’s bruised body was discovered covered with a cloth on Monday, Nov. 3, 2008. Jinaga’s father had asked a family friend to check in on her after she missed scheduled calls with family from India. Johnson was hanging out near Jinaga’s apartment when her friend arrived to check on her, and he helped the family friend identify the body, the lawsuit alleges.
Investigators said the lower half of the woman’s body was covered in motor oil. Her fingers and nails were cleaned and then covered in toilet bowl cleaner, and there was a heavy scent of bleach throughout the house. Court files said there were also burn marks from an attempt to set the body or apartment on fire.
Johnson said he heard moaning sounds coming from Jinaga’s apartment around 3 a.m., and he assumed she was having sex. Her other immediate neighbor, Kyle Rose, said he heard growling sounds around 8 a.m. He assumed Jinaga was either vomiting or having sex. He also heard a thud on the floor but figured she was alright when he heard water running shortly after the noise. The medical examiner estimated Jinaga’s time of death was 8 a.m.
The complaint alleges that police failed to properly secure and gather evidence. The officers allegedly did not change gloves between evidence collections, or between rooms or locations. They also waited days to search a dumpster in the complex where a partial bottle of motor oil, a boot lace used to strangle Jinaga and her bed sheet and a bath robe were found.
Jinaga’s neighbor, Johnson, was the prime suspect at first, as described in Fair’s lawsuit documents. He matched the description of the man the other resident saw around 3 a.m. at the murdered woman’s door and had a wide window of suspicion around him, the lawsuit alleges.
In addition, several neighbors in the complex told investigators that he had a sexual attraction to Jinaga, and he “exhibited jealous behavior when she talked to other men at the Halloween party that night. The lawsuit says that Johnson also had a past of strange or violent behavior with women.
According to court documents, Johnson called Jinaga around 3 a.m. but did not mention that to the police during his interview. When asked about the calls, Johnson reportedly said, “oh crap,” but he could not remember why he called Jinaga.
He also drove to Canada the day of the murder and attempted to cross the border without a passport. He told detectives he had a desire to “explore.” Canadian officials said Johnson tried to “blow through” the gates.
Johnson also had injuries that detectives said were consistent with a sexual assault. He attributed them to wrestling a stranger he met at another Halloween party the next day, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the complaint, Johnson’s fingerprints were found inside a window in Jinaga’s apartment, and his DNA was found on the motor oil bottle and a portion of wet carpet at the crime scene. The lawsuit alleges that a lighter was found in his apartment with a sticky substance on it, but investigators never collected it. They also failed to look for evidence of a missing bootlace.
He had a list of nearby pawnshops in his car printed the day Jinaga was killed, the lawsuit says. Jinaga’s phone and digital camera were missing from the scene and never recovered. Police let Johnson go after his questioning. He scrubbed his phone right after the interrogation, the lawsuit says. Johnson has denied any involvement in Jinaga’s death.
There were also other men in Jinaga’s life that detectives suspected of the murder, and some of their DNA was found at the crime scene. Brian Bundridge was in a motorcycle club with Jinaga.
He had a prior history of violent sexual crimes. Witnesses said Neil Marshall, a partygoer, was sexually aggressive toward Jinaga on Halloween. Another apartment complex resident committed suicide just days after Jinaga’s death, and his DNA was reportedly never compared to the crime scene.
Several people were at the party before Jinaga’s murder, so the scene was full of various DNA samples. Her removed tampon alone had three separate unidentified male DNA profiles on it, according to Rolling Stone’s investigation. Unidentified male DNA was also found on a bruise on Jinaga’s wrist. Some of the potential suspects were not interviewed. However, when Fair emerged as a suspect, his “treatment can only be viewed as racial discrimination,” his attorneys allege.
Fair’s DNA was found on Jinaga’s robe and a roll of duct tape that was likely used to tape her underwear inside her mouth like a gag. Detectives also found a trace of his DNA on the front of Jinaga’s neck that was so small that it had to be sent to a specialized lab for review.
Fair’s attorneys contend that some of the DNA evidence was not an exact match. The lab technicians “simply could not exclude Fair as a match,” and his DNA was found alongside other DNA matches. The lawsuit also says Fair threw garbage in the dumpster where the robe and other items were found while helping with party clean up.
In a 2020 interview, one of the prosecutors said Fair looked like the best suspect because his DNA was found on objects specifically related to the murder, not the aftermath.
The lawsuit alleges that the department hired famous psychic medium Allison DuBois to help with the investigation around the time Fair was identified as the main suspect.
“Detectives relied on her to help them find Jinaga’s missing phone and camera and consulted her about the potential of Fair as a suspect,” the lawsuit says.
According to reports, when lead Detective Brian Coats saw photos from the party, he narrowed in on Fair, who he referred to as the”only African-American male at the party” on the podcast Suspect. Coats ran a background check on the Fair and found the rape charge. According to reports, Fair accepted a plea agreement in 2004 while still maintaining his innocence.
Coats was asked during the podcast if the prior conviction was significant to his investigation. He replied: “If you’ve done it before, you’ll do it again.”
Fair was initially arrested for not updating his address with his probation officer. Police staked out the house where he was staying, slowly rolled up on Fair and reportedly pointed guns at his chest.
“I thought I was gonna die,” Fair told Rolling Stone. “It was like the movies, coming down slow.”
They interrogated Fair on the car ride to the station without reading his rights. He waited in jail while authorities tested his DNA. Detectives interviewed Fair three times in jail before the district attorney recommended a first-degree murder against him.
Fair spent six of the nearly nine years in jail, held by a seven-figure bond, isolated for 23 hours a day awaiting trial. His first trial, in 2017, ended in a hung jury because one juror said Fair looked like “a thug” with “tattoos on his hands.” The jury in the second trial acquitted him.
Fair is seeking damages for the emotional stress he faced from when police investigated him until he was released. His lawyers said the ordeal has permanently damaged Fair’s reputation, his emotional well-being, livelihood and relationships. They also want him to be reimbursed for the attorney fees he incurred while fighting the charges.
The county, police department and Coats filed a response to Fair’s initial complaint refuting the claims. Coats is now a captain in the department.
The prosecutor’s office told Rolling Stone: “We look forward to addressing these allegations in a public courtroom; we stand by our case.”
Fair said that he was reluctant to file the lawsuit at first because Jinaga’s family still hasn’t gotten justice: “there’s no resolution for this case, no resolution for her.”
As a man who was incarcerated and released but not convicted, Fair left jail without the support and resources typically offered to exonerated people or parolees, such as job support and mental health services. His lawyers said he suffers from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
“I’m out,” Fair said. “but I’m not free.”