Man charged with murder in 1986 cold case

TACOMA, Wash. — A 50-year-old man was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in a 1986 strangling of a Tacoma woman.

Shortly after noon on Aug. 30, 1986, Tacoma police were called to an apartment complex in where officers found Carol Davidson, 46, dead inside her apartment.

Investigators said Davidson had trauma to the head, her hands were bound behind her back and she was gagged.  The medical examiner determined she died from strangulation.

On the ground below her apartment window, police found some of Davidson’s belongings and a pack of Kool cigarettes.

The crime scene was forensically processed and biological evidence was recovered.  With the limited scope of scientific techniques available at the time, the original investigators were unable to identify a suspect and the investigation was suspended.

In July 2012, Tacoma police created a cold case unit funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice to collaborate with the Prosecutor’s Office homicide unit.

The investigation was reopened, evidence was reviewed and biological samples were submitted to the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab where a DNA profile was developed and entered into the national DNA registry.

Prosecutors said the DNA profile matched that of Christopher Leon Smith, whose DNA had been collected after his 2009 convictions in Pierce County for first-degree rape, second-degree child rape and kidnapping.

In 1983 and 1984, Smith was a suspect in two Tacoma-area rapes.  Both victims reported that they had been physically assaulted before being raped and one said the attacker purchased a pack of Kool cigarettes while they were together.

Smith was interviewed during those investigations and told a detective that he had consensual sex with both women, and that he smoked Kool cigarettes, detectives said.

On Nov. 26, 2012, detectives spoke with the Smith at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where he is serving a 50 years to life sentence for the 2009 sex offenses.  Smith denied involvement in the death of Davidson, and declared that any DNA result that linked him to the crime is the result of a conspiracy, prosecutors said.

"Justice has been a long timing coming for Carol Davidson's family," said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.  "Detective Gene Miller of the Tacoma Police Department’s Cold Case Unit and Forensic Scientist Marion Clark of the Washington State Crime Lab were diligent and innovative. This is one of those few cases that actually played out as cases do on CSI and other television shows.”