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Monday, November 30, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Double-Murder Trial To Begin -- Man Charged With Killing Women

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Princess Gray was in the King County Jail when she picked up the phone and left a voice-mail message to her therapist.

"You need to tell him that I am going to tell on him," she uttered into Kristi Croskey's machine in the fall of 1996.

After listening to the cryptic message, Croskey asked Gray to provide some context.

Croskey was stunned as her jailed client provided what seemed to be detailed information about the slayings of two Shoreline-area women in 1995.

Nineteen months after the killings, police were still baffled, still searching for clues, still asking the question: Who killed Renee Powell and Barbara Walsh?

Gray claimed the killer was Robert Parker, her former lover and live-in boyfriend who had accumulated a string of criminal arrests in his native Arkansas before moving to Seattle a few years ago.

Parker was charged with two counts of aggravated felony murder for the deaths of Powell and Marsh and two counts of first-degree arson.

His aggravated-double-murder trial was scheduled to begin today in the courtroom of King County Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong.

The 27-year-old former stock assistant at Toys R Us in Northgate could receive the death sentence if convicted.

His attorneys say he is innocent, the victim of Gray's vindictiveness and her brazen attempt to retaliate against him for his role in the arrest that landed her in jail.

Parker had testified against her in a misdemeanor trial in which she had been found guilty and given jail time, court documents show.

Gray also faced a felony assault charge for allegedly attacking Parker. He was expected to testify against her in that case, too.

"He didn't do anything," said Parker's attorney, Howard Phillips. "This is a case of false allegations."

Phillips said Gray recanted her accusations against Parker shortly after he was arrested, admitting she fabricated the accusations to get even with him.

"The former girlfriend was lying," Phillips said, adding he believed her testimony was the crux of the prosecution's case.

But King County Senior Deputy Prosecutors Donald Raz and Regina Cahan are not expected to rely solely on Gray's statements.

Instead they are likely to provide additional circumstantial and corroborating evidence: DNA evidence that suggests body fluids found in one of the victims could have come from Parker, and a King County Jail inmate who is expected to testify that the defendant asked him to supply an alibi for one of the slayings.

Parker is accused of killing Powell, 43, on Feb. 24, 1995; and Walsh, 53, on March 25, 1995.

Both crimes were so grisly, yet the method of operation so meticulous, that police initially suspected a serial killer was responsible.

But of 6,000 killings committed in Washington and Oregon over the past two decades, police could not find a single other one that also included rape, theft and arson, court documents show.

Still, law-enforcement officials were concerned by the similarities.

Both women lived alone in the same apartment complex. Both had been bound, gagged and stabbed. Both had property stolen from their apartments, and the killer set several fires at both apartments.

One of the women had been raped.

Still, after 19 months of an extensive investigation police did not have a key suspect.

That changed in September 1996, when Croskey told police about Gray.

Gray claimed Parker bragged about killing and robbing the two women. She said that on the night of the second slaying, Parker returned home and started dropping pepper inside and outside the apartment. When she asked him why, she said, he told her he was doing it to avoid being tracked back to their apartment.

Gray took police to her apartment, where they recovered more than 30 items that relatives and friends of the victims identified as property belonging to the slain women.

Among the items were a London Fog raincoat, silverware, a wicker basket, wire sculptures, a hand-painted vase, stereo speakers and a VCR.

Gray also said that on the night of the first killing, Parker returned to their apartment with frozen pork chops, about $30 in coins, and eight bottles of wine. She said Parker had stuffed the food and wine inside a black duffel bag stolen from the first victim's apartment. Police say the bag was recovered at the defendant's Seattle home when he was arrested Nov. 5, 1996.

But what seemed like an airtight case against Parker deflated on Dec. 8, 1996, when Gray recanted.

She told police that on the night of the first killing, Parker was with her at her mother's home in Edmonds.

On the night of the second killing, she told police, she raced outside to see the fire and spotted some items - including the duffel bag - near a trash can and took them home.

Ronald K. Fitten's phone message number is 206-464-3251. His e-mail address is: rfitten@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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