LONG BEACH — A man convicted of shooting Washington State Trooper Scott Johnson in 2010 is seeking a new trial, saying another man confessed and that Johnson deliberately misidentified him — something the wounded trooper, now Pacific County sheriff, adamantly denies.
Martin Jones, 53, is serving a 50-year sentence after being convicted of shooting Johnson in downtown Long Beach.
Jones’ lawyer has filed a new appeal, including sworn declarations from local drug dealer Peter Boer that on the night of the shooting, his brother Nick, a repeat felon, “took credit” for it and sent Peter Boer to dispose of gun parts.
Peter Boer also alleged a motive, though no evidence has emerged to support it: Johnson had been shaking down his brother for money in lieu of arrest. Jones’ lawyer, Lenell Nussbaum, said that explains why the trooper’s statements differed from those of the only other witness — a tow-truck driver who was with Johnson when he was shot, and who said Jones wasn’t the culprit.
“Johnson falsely identified Jones as the shooter to conceal his own corruption,” Nussbaum wrote.
“That’s ridiculous,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “It’s not true.”
Nick Boer, who says he has been clean for six years, also denied it, calling his brother “exotic in his imagination.” He and Johnson said they didn’t even know each other.
“If that guy’s in there innocent, I feel bad about that,” he said. “But I don’t want the story to be spun like I’m some kind of vigilante killer, or that there was some kind of corruption. Those officers, any I’ve ever had dealings with, they’ve done nothing but try to help me.”
Accounts of the case
Johnson was helping the tow-truck driver impound a minivan a little before 1 a.m. on Feb. 13, 2010, when a man approached and asked what they were doing. The man walked off. Johnson would later describe him as appearing extremely angry, while the tow-truck driver, George Hill, testified that he was “real neutral, like no emotion at all.”
Moments later, the man returned from behind and shot the trooper in the head. The .22-caliber bullet broke apart and remains lodged near the base of Johnson’s skull.
Feeling “like a crowbar had hit me,” Johnson later testified, he locked eyes with the man and shot back twice.
Hill, who had known Johnson for 27 years, described the attacker as white but somehow ethnic, possibly tan or olive-skinned.
Suspicion fell on Jones, the minivan’s owner. A tower crane operator, he was home in bed when his wife, Susan Jones, was arrested for drunken driving in the vehicle. He says he stayed home all night.
The next morning he let investigators search his house, told them where to find his three rifles, and agreed to stand out front to see if a witness would identify him.
Police rolled slowly by in an unmarked car with Hill inside.
At Jones’ 2011 trial, a State Patrol detective, Matthew Hughes, recalled the tow-truck driver’s reaction: “No, that’s not the guy. … That’s Marty.”
Hill had given the Joneses estimates for auto-body work.
That afternoon, Hill worked with a sketch artist. Several people told police the drawing looked like Nick Boer.
Police found Boer and his brother at their mom’s mobile home. Nick denied involvement.
Johnson, meanwhile, was in a hospital bed. He saw the sketch on the news and said it didn’t look anything like the shooter. He repeatedly asked for a picture of the minivan’s owner.
A corrections officer showed him Jones’ driver’s license photo, with Jones’ name underneath it.
That’s him, Johnson replied.
Johnson then worked with the artist on a new sketch, without mentioning he’d seen a picture of Jones. Jones was arrested that night, close to 48 hours after the shooting.
The state’s theory was that Jones — a grandfather with no criminal history and with close relatives in law enforcement — got out of bed after receiving a text from his wife that she’d been pulled over. He walked 1.3 miles, or possibly drove part of that distance, to her van. He saw and spoke with a tow-truck driver whom he knew, and who could presumably identify him. He became enraged and shot the trooper with a handgun. The tow-truck driver couldn’t identify Jones because he didn’t get a good enough look.
Investigators found in Jones’ house a box of .22-caliber ammunition. A state expert testified that microscopic markings on the shell found at the scene forensically matched the shells in the box — suggesting the bullet that shot the trooper came from the box in Jones’ house.
But that type of analysis has been discredited and has no scientific foundation, William Tobin, a retired manager of forensic metallurgy at the FBI Laboratory in Washington, D.C., wrote last month after reviewing the case for Jones’ lawyer.
At trial, Johnson, by then sheriff, identified Jones as the shooter. He told the AP he still has no doubt.
“I was just a couple feet from the shooter, and I looked him right in the eye,” Johnson said.
Jones testified at length, protesting his innocence, but the jury convicted him.
Private eye investigates
The family eventually hired a private investigator, and the investigator learned that in 2012, Pacific County Fire District No. 1 Commissioner Greg McLeod, a local accountant, tried to contact Jones’ lawyers. McLeod’s son, Mike, had come forward after the trial to say someone else confessed.
On the night of the shooting, Peter Boer came to his house with a backpack, Mike McLeod said. Peter told him his brother claimed to have shot an officer and asked him to get rid of some weapons.
The investigator interviewed Peter Boer under oath at a prison; he’s now serving nearly five years for stolen property. Peter said he would talk partly because his mother, who wanted to protect Nick, had died.
In Peter Boer’s telling, he was at his mother’s trailer when Nick called from a house two blocks from the shooting. An officer was shot, Nick reported, and Peter should stay put.
Nick then arrived, looking at the floor when Peter asked if he’d shot the trooper. They went to a friend’s house, getting high along the way, and Nick “took credit,” Peter said.
“He was like, ‘Yeah, I do — I shot him,’” Peter said. “So he asked me to go out to the car and grab a backpack and go dump off some gun parts we had.”
Peter said he stopped by McLeod’s house and tossed the gun parts in a spot where the tide comes in.
A friend who supposedly witnessed the confession told the investigator he doesn’t remember that night. Nick Boer maintains he and his brother never left their mom’s trailer, and says his brother may remain bitter over some family disputes.
Hill, the tow-truck driver, told the AP he couldn’t identify the shooter at the trial, and he can’t now.
From the state penitentiary in Walla Walla, Jones said he and his wife always supported law enforcement and even held a fundraiser for the wife of a trooper slain in 1999. He hopes the new information exonerates him.
“I’m not the kind of person who goes around committing any crimes, let alone shooting an officer of the law,” he said.