The Trials of Emanuel Fair

On the night of October 31, 2008, 24-year-old software engineer and motorcycle enthusiast Arpana Jinaga was raped and murdered in her bedroom after co-hosting a Halloween party at her apartment complex in Redmond, Washington. Nearly two years later, detectives charged then 26-year-old Emanuel Fair, one of the many revelers who visited Jinaga’s apartment over the course of the evening. Fair was arrested and spent the next nine years in jail, proclaiming his innocence through two trials, numerous motions, and drawn out judicial delays. It was the culmination of a long and tortured relationship with the criminal justice system.

Emanuel Fair 

I’ve always felt like a black sheep. 

Emanuel Fair 

I was bad when I was young. I would get in trouble a lot. The whole time, I felt some kind of way.

Emanuel Fair  

I grew up in Seattle, in the central area near Capitol Hill. I was raised by my grandmother, then my aunt and uncle, because my mom was in the streets. She wasn’t there for us like a mother should be. She was an alcoholic and on cocaine. 

Emanuel Fair 

I used to be sitting in the living room watching cartoons, and the mail slot will open and it’ll be my mom at the door. And I look at my grandma, she’d be in the dining room, and she’ll say, “Don’t open the door.” So I have to sit there and talk to my mom through the mail slot. The next day when the school bus came, I realized my mom slept on the porch just to give me a hug before I got on the bus. And I always remember that. And I remember one time I ran away and I didn’t have nowhere to go and I found myself doing the same thing my mom did. I went to my aunt and uncle’s and I was laying on the porch, and I must have made a lot of noise because my little brother looked out the blinds and yelled my name. And he ran to the door to let me in and I ran off. I feel so bad when I think about it now. 

Emanuel Fair 

When I am 16, my mother died and that was the worst news I could ever hear. Immediately when I heard she died, I thought, “Wow, she overdosed or something,” and the coroner says she didn’t have no drugs, no alcohol in her system. She just died in her sleep from an enlarged heart. Her heart kept getting big and it gave out. I was just happy that it wasn’t from drugs, but years of doing drugs, it’ll do things like that to your body. So I kind of just lost hope and I ran to the streets. I was selling drugs and hanging with people that I thought was friends. Things just start spiraling down from then.

That spiraling period in Fair’s life included gang activity and four adult felony convictions, ranging from drug charges to two counts of third-degree rape of a minor. This last charge came when he was nineteen; a 14-year-old girl accused him of raping her at gun point. Fair took an Alford plea, and was sentenced to four years in prison. Following his release, he was again jailed on probation violations and charged with failing to register as a sex offender. 

But leading up to October 31, 2008, Fair says he was turning things around. And he was not without friends, like musician and radio host Lace Cadence

Emanuel Fair 

I was staying with my friend. He’s like one of the most positive persons in my life. And he does music. His stage name is Lace Cadence. And so I live with him and everything’s good. 

Emanuel Fair 

A friend invited me to come out to her apartment for that weekend, so I went out there. I didn’t know until I got out there that it was a Halloween party. So a couple of the people that I met in the complex got a little costume together for me. So I dressed up as a construction worker. 

Emanuel Fair  

I got there on a Thursday, and I was introduced to some of the neighbors and some maintenance guy, and everything was good. We are hitting it off. I help blow balloons and set up a little bit. There was three floors of the apartment and in the bottom unit there was three doors that were open and available for people to go in and out. And then there was two doors at the top. The victim’s door, and then her neighbor showed up late, no costume on, and his door was open and people are mingling and stuff. I spent some time with him for a little bit, probably about 30 minutes, and listened to some music. I let him hear some music. He let me hear some beats. And then that was it. And then I went downstairs, and the party was still going, but it started getting late.

So he turned in, sleeping over at his friend’s apartment in the same complex. 

Jinaga’s body was discovered three days later by a family friend named Jay, and Jinaga’s neighbor. The whole apartment reeked of bleach. Her blood-stained comforter was soaked in the bathtub and her bedsheets had been lit on fire. Jinaga was sprawled on the floor in her bedroom, bloody, naked, and drenched in bleach, toilet bowl cleaner, and motor oil. She had been brutally beaten, raped, and strangled.

Jinaga’s killer had clearly gone to great lengths to destroy any biological traces linking him to the crime scene. Detectives took this to mean that the killer had past experience with incriminating DNA evidence, a person whose DNA was likely already in police custody. In other words, someone with a criminal record. 

And the only person with a criminal record who had attended the Halloween festivities was Emanuel Fair. 

Emanuel Fair  

I felt like I was targeted from the gate.

Emanuel Fair 

Me being from the neighborhood I’m from. My life growing up, being involved with gangs, my criminal history. I was on DOC at the time, so they just automatically, “Oh, well, he’s got to be the guy.”

Emanuel Fair 

It was just weird going through what I went through because it just seems like they was trying to pin something on me. 

It would have been negligent if detectives hadn’t vigorously investigated Fair due to his prior convictions, most notably the third-degree rape conviction. But did the detectives do their due diligence investigating all legitimate leads that arose from the evidence? Fair claims he didn’t get a fair shake, that the detectives instead succumbed to tunnel vision. 

Emanuel Fair 

It was just crazy. They even went and consulted with a psychic.

Amanda Knox  

Wait, they consulted a psychic?

Emanuel Fair  

Yes, they consulted with a psychic. 

Amanda Knox   

Tell me about that. 

Emanuel Fair  

The judge didn’t allow the psychic to testify or anything, but some of the questions that they asked the psychic was allowed, and he was just asking the psychic to speak to the victim, who could have committed this crime?

Seven years elapsed before Fair faced trial, due to numerous pretrial motions objecting to alleged unequal treatment during the investigation, calling for representation in the jury pool, and quibbling over what evidence would be allowed in court. Before all was said and done, Fair would clock in as the second longest serving unsentenced inmate in the downtown jail. 

Emanuel Fair 

My first trial was in 2017. And it started on Valentine’s Day. 

Amanda Knox  

What’s your big takeaway from this whole experience?

Emanuel Fair  

I got a bigger insight on the government, how they do things. They don’t always have to be going after the right person, long as they feel like the story that they’re painting can get them a conviction. That’s what they go for. And I think a lot of prosecutors are like that. That’s why you have all these people who are getting their convictions overturned. I think prosecutors is like movie directors. If they could get the audience to believe, then they have a win. That’s their win. They’re not, nobody’s perfect. They’re not always right. 

The prosecution’s case rested primarily on DNA evidence collected from the crime scene. Fair’s DNA was identified on Jinaga’s neck, on a tissue on the side of Jinaga’s bed, on a roll of duct tape found in the apartment, and on Jinaga’s bathrobe found in a nearby dumpster. But the DNA traces were mixed, meaning they were difficult to read, and it was difficult to determine when and how the traces were deposited. Both the bathrobe and the duct tape were also submitted for analysis by a controversial technology called TrueAllele, a genotyping software program that produces probabilities of identification. TrueAllele found that, for the trace on Jinaga’s bathrobe, it was 56.8 million times more likely to be a mixture of Jinaga’s and Fair’s DNA than a mixture of Jinaga’s DNA with that of another African American male. For the roll of duct tape, it was 45.7 trillion times more likely to be a mixture of Jinaga’s and Fair’s DNA than a mixture of Jinaga’s DNA with that of another African American male. 

Fair’s defense attorneys disputed this interpretation of the evidence on a number of grounds. First, they raised concerns about the scientific validity of the program, a problem compounded by the fact that Cybergenetics, the company which owns the program, refuses to disclose its source code, meaning judges and juries have no way of knowing how the program reaches its conclusions, and defense attorneys have no way of challenging them. Second, Fair’s attorneys pointed out that, despite the killer’s attempts to destroy all biological evidence, detectives obtained numerous traces of DNA from the scene, some of which potentially implicated Fair, others of which potentially implicated other people. Why hadn’t the prosecution pursued a case against those other individuals? Were they cherry-picking the evidence? 

Emanuel Fair 

I was so confused because I was like, “This is a party. People were going in and out of four or five units. There has to be DNA everywhere. Why are they, like, nitpicking? You’re not putting everything out there.” 

The prosecution also pointed to Fair’s cell phone records, which showed he made or received 20 calls between 1:54 a.m. and 4:48 a.m. on the night of the murder, when Fair claimed to have been sleeping. One of these calls resulted in a long voicemail in which the recipient heard movement, but no words. Was this proof Fair was up and active? His attorneys argued that these calls were consistent with butt dials made accidentally while Fair was tossing and turning in his sleep. 

The jury had a lot of conflicting information and interpretation to sort through, from without and within. 

Emanuel Fair  

There was a little jury misconduct. We found that out after the trial was over. One of the jurors shouldn’t have ever been on the jury pool because he was affiliated with a motorcycle gang that was a part of the case, and one of the jurors emailed my attorneys and the prosecutor saying that, “He keeps telling us to, ‘Let’s just find him guilty and let the system correct any errors later.’” 

Amanda Knox  

Wow. 

The jury deliberated for an entire week, and in the end, couldn’t agree on a verdict. The judge pronounced a mistrial. This was a bittersweet outcome for Fair. It meant he had to remain in limbo, and in jail, but also that he and his advocates had another chance to make the case for his innocence.

Emanuel Fair 

The attorney that I had, he was just a bulldog. He was really there for me, but the first two years I spent in jail I had an attorney that didn’t do anything for me. He didn’t do no interviews, didn’t hire no experts. And I never knew any of that until the judge mentioned it in court. That’s when I was like, “Oh, yeah, please remove him off my case,” and the judge did that. And then I ended up getting the attorney that I heard about while I was in there. He came to see me two days later. He was like, “I’m Benjamin Goldsmith. I’m your new attorney. It’s funny that I have this case right now, because I seen it in the news when it first came out, and I told my wife, ‘I want that case.’ Here it is, two years later, now I have it.” Every step of the way, he was informing me of the status of everything. So that was good. 

Fair’s second trial took place two years later, from May 7 to June 11, 2019, and was a condensed version of the first. Goldsmith’s defense strategy was to zealously point out the inherent uncertainty in the case, starting with the detective’s tunnel vision focus on Fair when there was another viable suspect readily available.

By the state’s own admission, Jinaga’s neighbor, remained a person of interest. His DNA was on a bottle of motor oil found in the same nearby dumpster where detectives had retrieved the bathrobe. Goldsmith argued that the DNA evidence allegedly implicating Fair was at the very least on par with the DNA evidence implicating the neighbor. Which begged the question: had they committed the murder together? 

Emanuel Fair 

I guess they were trying to say that me and the neighbor possibly could have been codefendants. I explained to them I’d only been with the guy for 30 minutes. I don’t know him. And apparently he said the same thing, he doesn’t know me.

Emanuel Fair  

It was just people at the party saying, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen him talking to him.” So what they do is, “Oh, everybody’s seeing you talking to him and then you guys disappear. Where’d you guys go?” We went to his car and listened to some music. I’m a polite guy. Even if I don’t like the music, I’m not gonna tell you. I wrapped it up pretty fast because I’m not really into techno. 

Was it possible that Fair and the neighbor met on the night of the murder, and plotted to rape and murder Jinaga during the half hour they were alone together in the neighbor’s car? The prosecution thought it was plausible, but Goldsmith and the judge ― and later, the Washington State Supreme Court ― agreed that there was no evidence that Fair and the neighbor had been accomplices. Tellingly, the prosecution never brought charges against the neighbor, only Fair. 

There was circumstantial evidence as well. By the neighbor’s own admission, he was attracted to Jinaga, and had hoped to hook up with her the night of the murder. His cell phone records showed that he called Jinaga twice around 3:00 a.m., calls for which the neighbor had no explanation. Another resident of the apartment complex, who arrived home from work also around 3 a.m., said he saw a man — who, unlike Fair, was not black — standing in Jinaga’s doorway talking to someone inside. 

Then, the day after the murder, while Fair was helping clean up Halloween decorations, the neighbor jumped in his car and went on a spontaneous roadtrip.

Emanuel Fair 

He tried to get in the Canadian border the next day and they pulled him over. 

Amanda Knox  

Escape. 

Emanuel Fair  

That’s what my attorneys were thinking as well. One of the detectives actually wrote a note that he tried to blow past a checkpoint. The border patrol officer told them that he tried to blow past the checkpoint. 

the neighbor drove to Canada, only to be turned around at the border. When asked why he had made the unplanned excursion, he told detectives he had been “kind of wanting to explore.” 

Finally, at least three people told detectives that the neighbor had expressed concern that he may have gone to Jinaga’s apartment in his sleep. the neighbor himself revealed to detectives that he had been off his psychiatric medication at the time.

Emanuel Fair  

They’re interviewing the neighbor, and the neighbor eventually gave three or four interviews where he said highly incriminating things, and they still didn’t charge them. I guess he said to his mother, “Is it possible I did this and not remember?”

Of course, none of this proved the neighbor was guilty. But at the very least it cast doubt over the prosecution’s case against Fair, and at most raised the question, “If even the prosecution isn’t sure if one, the other, or both actually did it, why was Fair on trial in the first place?”

Emanuel Fair 

We never got a chance to interview the neighbor, because the prosecution prevented us. My attorney still called him on the stand, but the judge told the jurors that we are prohibited from asking him certain questions because he invoked his fifth amendment right not to self incriminate. They was treating them like he’s Forrest Gump or something. 

Emanuel Fair 

It was just weird. This guy never implicated me, never said anything about me, or nothing. And I thought he was a cool guy. I just seen my attorney the other day, and I’m saying I’m just still not even sure it was him. I don’t know who it was.

Amanda Knox  

Yeah, that’s kind of a whole thing about this case. Nobody really knows who it was. 

Emanuel Fair  

Right. 

The jury in Fair’s second trial agreed, and found him not guilty on June 11, 2019. He was released from jail the same day. 

The murder of Arpana Jinaga unfortunately remains unsolved. Redmond detectives were up against the exceptionally difficult task of collecting reliable DNA traces from a chaotic crime scene and decisively parsing out the conflicting circumstantial evidence surrounding the events and individuals involved. Alongside that tragedy remains the nine years Fair spent behind bars for a crime he was never proven to have committed.

Amanda Knox  

You’ve been through a very long legal saga. 

Emanuel Fair  

It’s impacted me a lot. Especially with my siblings.

Emanuel Fair  

[My brother] was worried about me. He also had issues, like I remember one time he came to visit me, and one of the officers at the jail, he asked him, “Do you know where I can find my brother?” And he said, “What’s his name?” And my brother told them, and the officer told my brother, “Oh, he’s on the 10th floor, where you should be.” That really messed up my brother. 

Emanuel Fair  

I spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. I just wasn’t getting along with people. People were like playing cards, games, chess, and I couldn’t do this stuff every day. I would stay in my room and read. 

Emanuel Fair 

I wrote a lot of poetry. I draw portraits, things like that. So that helped me. It was just all about being positive. But I had good days and bad days in there. It really sucked where I’ve seen the same people come in and out, in and out. And I feel bad for them, and they feel bad for me because I was still there. But I’ve always kept the faith. I remember one of the officers said, “Go grab a piece of paper and a pencil.” So I went and grabbed it. And he said, “Now write a small little dot on the paper.” And so I put a little dot on the paper and I looked up at him, I said, “What’s this mean?” He said, “Small as a mustard seed, that’s all the faith that you need.” I carried that with me for a long time. And there was one officer who called me El Chapo. He said, “You’ve been here so long, you can do anything you want to here but break out.” And I said, “No, because I’m going out the front door.” And when that happened, he was one of the first ones to come and congratulate me. 

Fair also had support outside of jail ― friends and family who helped him stay connected with the free world and who worked behind the scenes for his release. 

Emanuel Fair  

I was blessed with family that wrote letters or sent money. I will call my aunt and uncles on Sundays, and they have Sunday dinner every day, so they will pass the phone around, and I will talk to certain people.

Emanuel Fair  

I went to high school with Macklemore at Nathan Hale. He met with Daniel Satterburg on two different occasions about my case, and he wrote a letter to my judge, and bought me two suits for my trial. He was real, real helpful.

Even so, throughout those nine years of imprisonment and judicial limbo, Fair was struggling. 

Emanuel Fair 

One of the hardest parts is missing funerals. There was over 20 funerals that I missed. 

Emanuel Fair 

There’s times where I felt like nobody cared. 

Emanuel Fair  

There was times where I was asking myself, “Why? Why am I going through this?” There was times where I was suicidal, because I felt like nobody cared. I used to tell myself, “Once it’s proven that I’m innocent, then I was gonna commit suicide.” And then, I just was like, “There’s a bigger purpose for me than that.”

Today, Fair lives with his one remaining aunt and is working to reclaim his own narrative. There’s not much else he can reclaim ― not his time, or the loss of income from having been forcibly removed from the job market for nearly a decade. Still, Fair is staying positive.

Emanuel Fair  

People asked me since I’ve been out there like, “Oh, are you gonna sue?” I’m like, “I don’t even know if I can do that,” because my situation is unique from others. Because a lot of those people go spend all these years in prison, then they get their conviction overturned, and they’re found innocent, then they get paid. But I was never convicted. I don’t know if I even qualify, but I mean that’s alright, I’ll just write my book.

Emanuel Fair

I took a lot of notes. That’s why I’m working on a book right now. I’m gonna call the book Swept Under The Rug

While Fair’s early criminal history is not in dispute, his guilt or innocence in Jinaga’s murder is far from clear. The only things that are clear at this point are that the evidence against Fair was weak and inconclusive enough that he likely should never have been charged, and that he was denied his right to a speedy trial. No one, regardless of their criminal history, deserves to lose nine years of their life to prison while awaiting a verdict.