"Low-key Allen welcomes tough cases"


Seattle Post-Intelligencer

David Allen

Born: December 31, 1944 in Danbury, Connecticut.

Education: Bachelor of Science degree from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., in 1966. Law degree from Boston University Law School in 1969.

Experience: Partner in Seattle law firm Allen & Hansen, P.S. As criminal defense attorney, has taken 250 cases to trial before juries during his career. Former public defender.

Hobbies: Salmon fishing, snowboarding, bike riding and woodworking.

Lawyer makes his mark

By Jack Hopkins
P-I Reporter

Criminal defense attorney David Allen doesn't cut an imposing figure in court.

He's not known for knock-your-socks-off cross-examinations of prosecution witnesses or fiery rhetoric during closing arguments to jurors.

He's more likely to show up wearing a rumpled sport coat and slacks than a tailored suit.

But his lack of flamboyance hasn't stopped him from racking up an impressive list of victories in court -- any of them high-profile cases other attorneys before him lost -- and earning a reputation as one of state's top criminal defense attorneys.

He put that reputation on the line in the glare of nationwide TV coverage last spring when he defended a Renton couple accused of plunging their 6-week-old daughter into a sink of scalding water and delaying their call to 911 until they could think of an excuse fo the fatal burns.

And he'll put it on the line for the same couple again next week, when Gerald and Julie Ann Sousa are scheduled to be retried on charges of second-degree murder in the May 11, 1992, death of their daughter Brooke.

The Sousas have argued that their baby died when her old sister, Sierra, tried to bathe her in the bathroom sink while they were asleep. A King County Superior Court jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict in April at the end of their first trial.

Court-TV, which broadcasts on cable in major cities nationwide, covered the first trial live and recently produced a one-hour special on the couple's legal battle.

Allen said he believes in the Renton couple's innocence.

"The worst thing a defense attorney can do is have a presumption of guilt when a client comes in," he said.

Allen has felt comfortable proclaiming the innocence of his clients in a number of highly publicized cases. Among other people he has defended:

Kevin Coe, believed by police to have raped more than 40 women in Spokane between 1978 and 1981. Coe already had been convicted on four counts of rape when Allen got involved in his case. Coe was facing a life term plus 25 years in prison when his parents heard of Allen's reputation for success and asked him to take their son's case.

Allen got Coe's convictions overturned on appeal. When a new jury convicted Coe of three rapes, Allen appealed again and got two counts thrown out by an appellate court. Department of Correction officials say Coe could be released as early as 1995.

Gerald L. Hanson, who spent 19 months in prison for a crime he did not commit. Hanson, a pharmaceutical salesman with no criminal record who received a Bronze Star Medal in Vietnam, was wrongly convicted of shooting a 7-eleven store clerk, Karen Zacher, in Snohomish in 1985. Allen did not represent Hanson in his first trial but successfully appealed that conviction and won an acquittal in a retrial.

William and Kathy Swan, who were charged with sexually molesting two 3-year-old girls in 1985. The Swans, whose case drew coverage by the CBS-TV show "60 Minutes" last year, were convicted in 1986. They have served their prison terms, but Allen is appealing their convictions.

Allen says he has defended some guilty people, but he routinely turns down prospective clients when he doesn't believe there is a chance of innocence.

"Juries are like kids and wild animals. They can smell fear. They know if you are afraid of them or if you don't believe what you are saying. So if you are not able to get up there and with conviction say they didn't do it or there is reasonable doubt, then you aren't an effective advocate."

Most of Allen's clients testify in their own defense, a hallmark of his cases. Many defense attorneys don't put their clients on the witness stand because things can turn sour during cross-examination by prosecutors.

"Jurors are dying to hear your clients," said Allen, 48, who has taken about 250 cases before juries during his 23-year career. "I feel that in most cases it is necessary. So much is at stake that at the end of the case, I would have a hard time living with myself if my client were convicted and I felt they should have taken the stand."

Allen also has a propensity for telling jurors that police botched the investigations of his clients.

"I try not to be critical of street cops, but it is true that I am critical of detectives," he said. "I've seen botched investigations in a lot of my cases. How chronic it is, I don't know... But if the police make a mistake, it's my job to bring it out in the open and not be shy about it."

That tactic, which he used in the Sousa case, has not won him fans among police officers.

Allen has a less-than-friendly relationship with many prosecutors and has gained a reputation for pressing everything to the limit to get his clients off.

"He is a zealous advocate for his clients," said Becky Roe, head of the special assault unit in the King County Prosecutor's Office. "But he is also a true believer who believes the end justifies the means, and the sometimes results in pushing things over the line."

Fellow defense attorneys generally praise Allen.

"David is one of the most talented trial lawyers in the Northwest," said John Muenster, a respected Seattle criminal defense lawyer. "David is thoroughly committed to his clients and eloquent in the courtroom."

Allen says people who see him only in court know only one side of him.

"I love to ski, and I took up snowboarding about two years ago," he said.

But Allen doesn't get much time for recreation. He often puts in six-and sometimes seven-day workweeks. He said he doesn't see that changing any time soon.

"You hear other lawyers grousing about how this is the (most rotten) work you can do," he said. "All I can think is, "Try digging ditches or something like that."

He said he still gets a high from winning a case. But it's nothing compared with the low when he loses one.

"If I lose a case, I carry it around forever."

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