TACOMA — A man convicted of attempting to kill a Washington state trooper is awaiting the results of a DNA test that may point to another suspect.
Former Seaview resident Martin Jones, 55, was sentenced in March 2011 to 50 years in the Washington State Penitentiary for shooting former Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson in the head. The shooting happened in February 2010 when Johnson was a Washington State Patrol trooper. Jones denies shooting Johnson. For more than eight years he has worked to have his conviction overturned.
Jones’ case for a new trial is being argued before Pierce County District Court Judge Garold E. Johnson. The original trial was conducted in Pierce County after the Washington State Attorney General’s Office took on the prosecution.
The Washington Court of Appeals transferred the case back to the trial court after Jones’ defense team offered evidence that another man confessed to shooting Scott Johnson: 41-year-old Nicolas Boer. Jones’ defense attorney Lenell Nussbaum asked the state crime lab to do further DNA testing since there is another potential suspect.
Nussbaum also challenged the validity of forensic evidence that linked bullets from Jones’ home to the shells found at the crime scene.
Nicolas Boer denied being involved with the shooting when he testified before Judge Garold Johnson on Aug. 1. He provided a DNA sample during his court appearance and the sample was submitted to the Washington State Crime Lab. Boer’s DNA will be compared to the DNA profiles found on two pieces of evidence; the shirt Scott Johnson was wearing the night he was shot and cigarette butts found near the scene.
There is no time estimate on when the DNA test results will come back, said Brionna Aho, communications director for the Attorney General’s Office. Assistant Attorney General Melanie Tratnik helped to prosecute Jones and represented the state during the evidentiary hearings this year.
Since Jones’ DNA was never found on Scott Johnson, and vice versa, Nussbaum said she wouldn’t be concerned if Boer’s DNA didn’t match. Regardless of the DNA, if the jury for Jones’ trial in 2011 heard some of the evidence her investigators have turned up they would not have convicted him, Nussbaum said. This includes evidence from three separate witnesses who believed Nicolas Boer to be the shooter after seeing a police sketch of the suspect.
Boer has a criminal record and was a drug dealer in Pacific County at the time of the shooting, according to court documents filed by Jones’ defense team. Nicolas Boer’s brother Peter Boer told private investigators in 2014 that Nicolas Boer confessed to the shooting. Peter Boer also said Nicolas Boer lied about his alibi.
On the night of the shooting, Peter Boer said Nicolas Boer said he shot a cop and needed help getting rid of the gun, according to court documents from Jones’ petition. Peter Boer said his brother threatened him, his wife and kids if Peter didn’t back up Nicolas Boer’s alibi.
Peter Boer recounted the events of that evening again in a 2017 interview with Winthrop Taylor, a private investigator for Jones’ defense team.
When Peter Boer was called to testify at one of Jones’ evidentiary hearings on May 29, he said he couldn’t remember the night of the shooting. He blamed years of drug use for his memory lapse. But a friend of the brothers said Nicolas Boer stole a .22 caliber handgun from him in the weeks leading up to the shooting. The shells found at the scene of the shooting were the same caliber.
The shooting happened at a time when officers on the West Coast felt like their uniform had become a target. In March 2009, four officers in Oakland, California were shot and killed; on Oct. 31, 2009 Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton died when he was shot while sitting in his patrol car; the next month four officers with the Lakewood, Washington police department were killed. In December of 2009, an officer from Eatonville was shot and killed.
Just a few months later on Feb. 13, 2010, Jones’ wife, Susan Jones, was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving by Washington State Patrol Trooper Jesse Greene. Scott Johnson arrived as Greene’s back up. Susan Jones told Johnson to call her husband to come pick up the car. Scott Johnson wrote “Marty” and the phone number on his hand. Greene arrested Susan Jones and left with her while Scott Johnson stayed to process Susan Jones’ minivan.
George Hill, owner of a local tow-truck company, came to move the van. A man approached Hill and Johnson and appeared agitated. The man left, but came back and while Johnson was distracted by the car, Hill saw the man grab Johnson from behind. Hill heard a gunshot. The man had shot Johnson in the back of the head. Johnson was still awake and made eye contact with the man before trying to shoot him. The man ran and Hill chased him until the man shot at him, but missed.
That night Johnson was shown several suspect photos and said none looked like the shooter. He then asked to see a photo of Susan Jones’ husband. He then identified Martin Jones as his shooter.
Hill was unable to identify the person who shot Johnson.
Jones’ sentence was vacated by the appeals court in April 2013, but later reinstated by the Washington Supreme Court. Jones successfully argued before the court of appeals that the district court violated open court laws when it selected an alternate juror during a break in the trial. But when prosecutors appealed the vacated sentence to the state supreme court, the court ruled the juror selection, while not best practices, was not a constitutional violation.
The current petition is Jones’ latest attempt to secure his freedom. The next hearing for Jones will be in December before Judge Garold Johnson in Pierce County District Court.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized George Hill's testimony. Hill was never able to identify the person who shot Scott Johnson. The above story was updated to reflect this correction.