OLYMPIA — Despite a years-long effort to get his conviction reversed, former Seaview resident Martin Arthur Jones will stay in prison. In an April 21 decision, the Washington Supreme Court reinstated Jones’ 2011 first-degree attempted murder conviction.
Jones was accused of shooting of Sheriff Scott Johnson, who was a Washington state trooper at the time, in the aftermath of a 2010 traffic stop. He was sentenced to serve about 50 years, and has been incarcerated in a state prison in Walla Walla since 2011.
Jones and his family have always maintained that he did not shoot Johnson. In an April 22 email, his wife, Susan Jones, said the family was disappointed, but “not really surprised” by the outcome, because the state’s highest court only considered very specific legal issues having to do with procedures during the trial, rather than the quality of the criminal investigation or the facts of the case. The family plans to continue fighting the conviction.
“Fortunately, with that process now behind us, we enter a new stage. Other options for challenging the conviction that were not previously available, now present themselves. While an appeal is limited to the trial record, in a post-conviction petition, a prisoner may submit new evidence,” Jones wrote. “With information that has come forth since the trial, Marty Jones and family remain optimistic of an eventual favorable outcome.”
Jones successfully argued in the state Court of Appeals that he was deprived of his right to an open trial, when a court official drew a name for an alternate juror during a court recess. The appeals court dismissed his conviction, but in 2013, the State Attorney General’s Office asked the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider the case. The justices heard oral arguments on Feb 23.
The Supreme Court focused on just two questions: Was Jones denied his constitutional right to a public trial? And should Jones’ conviction be reversed, due to his claim that was he was denied his right to be present for all critical stages of the trial?
The Supreme Court justices concluded that nearly every procedure related to selecting jurors had happened on the record, and in Jones’ presence.
“The only event that did not occur in open court was the judicial assistant’s physical act of randomly drawing the alternate jurors…” the justices wrote, adding that there was no indication the drawing influenced the outcome of the trial.
Furthermore, the justices said “The question of how the alternate jurors would be designated came up early and often...”, and that Jones and his attorney had a say in all decisions related to the jurors.
When the court official selected the alternates during an eight-minute break, only the jurors were explicitly instructed to leave the room. When court staff announced the results, Jones and his attorney didn’t seem concerned.
“There is no indication that anyone expressed any surprise, confusion or objections …” the justices wrote.
It was not until a week after the verdict, when Jones filed a motion for a new trial, that he raised concerns about violations of his constitutional rights.
In conclusion, the justices wrote, “While it might be the best practice to conduct such a drawing in the presence of the defendant and the public, it is not constitutionally required.”
Jones may still have a couple of options for fighting his conviction, Tom Kummerow, the Washington Appellate Project attorney who represented Jones during the appeals process, said in an April 25 phone interview.
Under Washington law, a prisoner who believes he has “been retrained of his liberty, under any pretense, whatever” can petition for a writ of habeas corpus — a legal document in which the petitioner explains why they believe they are being illegally detained. Generally, this results in a court hearing, where the petitioner can explain why they think their constitutional rights are being violated. A judge then decides how to proceed, according to the Washington Courts website.
Alternately, Jones could file a “personal restraint petition,” a similar process in which the prisoner tries to convince the court that the other party violated either their constitutional rights or Washington state law.
In either case, “... you’re trying to establish that the conviction was obtained unconstitutionally,” Kummerow said.
However, under the Washington constitution, “Once appeal is finished, you no longer have the right to counsel,” Kummerow explained. So, if Jones continues fighting his conviction, his family will have to find a new attorney and pay for the legal fees, which could be substantial.
“I didn’t really have a whole lot of reaction. There are no winners in this,” Sheriff Scott Johnson said on April 25. “It’s taken a long time — six years, two months, one week and four days, I think.”
Johnson said he was “relieved” that the county is no longer facing the possibility, though he knows the case could end up in court again.
“Potentially this could be something I have to deal with the rest of my life. That’s why I try not to get excited about it,” Johnson said. “But at least this particular chapter is over — for now.
Johnson remains as convinced of Jones’ guilt, as Jones’ family members are of his innocence.
“There’s no doubt about it. I know who shot me. There’s no question about that. I looked him the eye. I was two feet from the man,” Johnson said.