Jerry Jones

Jerry Jones is Free -- But For How Long?

Case Account provided by Kim Jones
Edited by Stormy Thoming-Gale

{Editor's note: What is it about some cases that turn the prosecution's attention erroneously to the other victims of violence? It's definitely an old phenomenon -- see the cases of Darlie Routier and Martin Tankleff to name a couple. Jerry Jones had severed tendons, yet the prosecution chose to not look beyond him while the killer has gone free. The most obvious things are apparently not seen by people in our system, leading us to question their level of competence.}

After original publication of this article, alternate juror Burling contacted Webmaster Stormy Thoming-Gale to tell us of the improprieties he saw while Jerry Jones was being tried. Read his letter.

The Night of the Murder

On the night of December 3, 1988, Jerry Jones was preparing for his shower while his wife, Lee, was getting ready for her bath. Thomas, their 4-year-old son, was already asleep. Their 15-year-old daughter, Beth, was at a Christmas party.

Lee Jones was filling the bathtub when the killer came, armed with a long, slim fillet knife. The autopsy showed Lee Jones was stabbed no less than 36 times and slashed at least 27 times. Wounds on Lee's hands and legs showed she tried with everything she had to fight the attack, but the petite woman was no match for the murderer. She bled to death on her bathroom floor.

The 911 call came from Jerry Jones at 9:51 p.m., Dec. 3, 1988. He said to hurry. His wife had been hurt. The dispatcher asked for the address. Jerry faltered. He mistakenly gave the address of their previous home of five years. As the dispatcher asked him to clarify, Jones seemed on the verge of panic. He said he'd been hurt too. An intruder had been in the home. A neighbor had also called 911. That neighbor initially faltered on the address as well, putting the police some 30 blocks away. The first police car did not arrive until 15 minutes after the 911 call.

It took the ambulance almost 20 minutes. When deputies arrived, Jerry was standing inside the house with his right hand bleeding and wrapped in a towel. He was soaking wet, his jeans stained with blood. Jerry had been preparing for a shower, while Lee was drawing a bath down the hall. He heard a single, chilling scream and ran to help her.

Jerry said he'd been attacked by a young man who ran out of the bathroom. Jerry then lunged for the knife, cutting his hand so deeply that some tendons were severed. Jerry was then slammed against the wall, briefly dazed. Jerry describes what he saw:

"My wife is in the bathtub and I don't think words are capable of describing what I saw. She has been cut several times. She's bleeding. She's moving her feet in an effort to literally push her way back into the corner of the bathtub as if to get away from somebody, and at the same time she's throwing her arms and her hands about in front of her violently, or wildly, as if to fight off whoever is attacking her."
More police arrived, and Jerry told them before calling 911, he'd wanted to get his son, Thomas, out of the house so the boy did not have the see his mother. The commotion had awakened Thomas. Jerry put him back to bed twice. When that didn't work, Jerry took Thomas to his neighbor's house. Even before Jerry took Thomas next door or called 911, Jerry put on his boots and stood under the shower. Jerry testified later that it was the most ridiculous thing to do under the circumstances, but he was drawn to the water.

If you'll remember, Jerry was preparing to shower before the attack. Although his behavior is indeed strange, it is not uncommon for people to react in bizarre ways when in shock. It is also not unusual for "inappropriate reactions" to be tagged as suspicious.

Four-year-old Thomas told police he'd awakened to growling noises, heard his mother scream and saw her bleeding. Thomas thought his mother had been attacked by lions or tigers. Thomas also said she'd asked him to call 911. Thomas' story directly contradicted what Jerry told police, that Lee had uttered nothing except a solitary scream. Police checked the washing machine, and found a wet, blood-free shirt that investigators believed Jerry was wearing while he stood under the shower. When police questioned the neighbors, one neighbor said Jerry had told him he'd been watching TV when attacked.

Records show that within eight minutes of the police's arrival, deputies told emergency medical personnel to consider Jerry a suspect. The police saw no evidence of an intruder. Jerry was taken into custody.

 Jerry and Lee Jones
Jerry and Lee Jones walk together at the Saigon Zoo in 1970, the year they were married.

The Trial

Jerry hired attorney Mark Mestel, regarded as one of the state's best criminal defense lawyers. Jerry assured Mr. Mestel he hadn't killed Lee. Jerry suspected a neighbor boy named D.B. Beth Jones, 15 years old at the time, was the Jones' middle child. D.B., also 15, was infatuated with Beth, and was regarded as an unsavory character. D.B. lived in the neighborhood, was the class smart aleck, and often teased Thomas by growling at him. Neither Lee nor Jerry liked D.B. They forbade him to visit their daughter. One day, when Jerry encountered D.B. in a heated argument with Lee, he escorted D.B. off the property. Jerry hung up on D.B. whenever he called. The day Lee Jones died, D.B. called repeatedly, asking to speak to Beth. Mr. Mestel, Jerry's lawyer, agreed to take a look.

The trial lasted seven days and was full of innuendo. The prosecutor focused on the contradictions of Jerry's story. How did the intruder get out without a trace? Why did Jerry's story change about the attack? What was the showering all about? The prosecutor then tried to discount Jerry's injuries, asking a state expert to look at photographs of Jerry's sliced hand. The expert testified the wound was consistent with a man's hand repeatedly slipping off the handle of a blood-slick knife.

Mestel countered with his own expert, who testified the wound was not self-inflicted, partly because Jerry would have had to hold the knife upside down and backwards for his injuries to make sense. A defense psychologist testified Jerry was in shock after discovering Lee. It would be normal to have trouble providing 911 operators his address, jurors were told. Tapes showed the next-door neighbor initially had the same problem.

Mestel also attacked police, arguing they'd rushed to judgment and fouled up evidence. It was clear that they made mistakes. For example, a technician trying to get fingerprints from the murder weapon dropped it into a hot vat, melting the handle. Jurors deliberated about a day before finding Jerry Jones guilty, though they never heard anything about D.B.

The Other Suspect

Why wasn't the suspicion about D.B.'s involvement mentioned in the trial?

True to his word, Mark Mestel, Jerry's attorney, had hired a private investigator. The investigation turned up an alibi for D.B. Mr. Mestel said it would be very difficult under the law to point to D.B. Under Washington case law, a criminal defendant may only point to another suspect when there is "such proof of connection with the crime, such a train of facts or circumstances as tend clearly to point out someone besides the accused as the guilty party." Mestel later testified he couldn't meet that standard.

After Jerry's conviction, Mestel hired a different private investigator, Larry Daly, known for work on behalf of defendants in the Wenatchee sex ring trials. After Daly pored over the sheriff's office investigation, the private detective produced a 21-page affidavit. Among other things, Daly found that: Detectives immediately focused on Jones, ignoring procedure that could have identified another suspect. For example, a downstairs door was found ajar the night of the killing, but deputies never checked it for fingerprints, nor did they use a police dog to search for a scent outside. Tests were not conducted on hairs found clutched in Lee Jones' fingers. Most importantly, D.B.'s alibi wasn't seriously challenged.

D.B.'s mother told sheriff's detectives he was home when Lee Jones died. Daly located a witness who claimed D.B. had been out all night. Additionally, D.B. then left to live in California for a time with his father. Daly found that suspicious. Daly also discovered that Beth Jones, the middle child, said D.B. had gotten into her purse before, and may have taken her house key. Beth gave Daly letters in which D.B. talked about breaking into homes and shooting Jerry Jones, The letters also contained sexually oriented comments about Jones family members -- specifically about Lee Jones.

"I hope your mom is still as sexy as ever," D.B. wrote a few months before the killing. "Now if we can get her to talk in complete sentences she can get someone better than old Jerry."

Daly learned the teen often visited the Jones home on weekends, when he knew that the adults were out dancing. Mestel sought a new trial, arguing that with Daly's evidence, Jerry could meet the legal burden to offer the teen as an alternate suspect. Mestel didn't convince the judge. Jerry Jones was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

What happens next?

The state Supreme Court declined to review Jerry's case in 1994. A U.S. District Court magistrate in Seattle took a similar step in 1996. The Jones family retained David Zuckerman, a defense attorney from Seattle. He took the case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Jones' federal court review had been perfunctory at best. The court in 1997 agreed a mistake might have been made. It faulted Mestel for facing jurors without fully investigating D.B. and his involvement in the murder of Lee Jones. The prosecution had a "weak, circumstantial case against Jones devoid of motive and resting in large part on the nonexistence of any other likely suspect," the 9th Circuit judges wrote. "Under these circumstances, failing to investigate (D.B.'s) potential involvement to exhaustion was a grave error."

A New Trial

The federal appeals court sent the case back to Seattle. Mr. Zuckerman tried to prove Jerry deserved another shot at justice. There was court-ordered testing of evidence, including the hairs that were found in Lee's hand. It turned out they belonged to Lee. Mr. Zuckerman called witnesses who testified D.B. not only had a flawed alibi, but also allegedly was near Jerry's home around the time of the murder.

The lawyer presented evidence showing that D.B. allegedly called a friend to go watch police converge on the home -- several minutes before Jones reported the stabbing to 911. D.B. was subpoenaed to testify. A decade earlier, he'd publicly denied any role in Lee Jones' murder. At the hearing in March1997, however, he refused to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The magistrate judge who presided over the hearing was not convinced Jerry should have a new trial.

On Dec. 16, 1997, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled differently. He tossed out Jerry's conviction, ruling his trial was flawed because Mestel hadn't presented evidence about D.B. If the jury had heard about D.B., there is a "reasonable probability" the verdict would have been different, Coughenour ruled.

In January 1999, the remaining Jones family were elated when Jerry was finally released from 10 years of imprisonment for a murder he did not commit. The rejoicing continued on March 10, 2000, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed the reversal of Jerry's conviction citing substantial evidence that another person (D.B.) actually murdered Lee Jones.

Three days later, Snohomish County decided, without benefit of further investigation, to recharge Jerry Jones despite the Ninth Circuit's finding that "there was direct evidence tending to connect D.B. with the crime ..." The trial is set to begin in early August 2000 at the Snohomish County Courthouse.

"The intent at this time is to retry the case," said Ronald Doersch, who prosecuted Jones in 1989 and won a first-degree murder conviction. Mr. Zuckerman, Jerry's lawyer, said he's disappointed the prosecutor is thinking about a new trial instead of pursuing D.B.'s involvement in the crime. "If we have to go to trial, the defense will be prepared to present evidence to the jury showing why (D.B.) may well have committed the murder," Mr. Zuckerman said.

Can Doersch still put together a case after more than a dozen years and witnesses who may have forgotten what they said earlier? The prosecutor's office issued a press release. It said that prosecutors will ask the court to set a new trial date and that Jerry Jones is still charged with first-degree murder. It said that prosecutors will review "all relevant evidence but will have no further comment" because it's a pending case. Mr. Zuckerman observed the fact that the prosecutor has one disadvantage, it has been 12 years since the murder. "In my view, the evidence against Jerry Jones was always very weak," Mr. Zuckerman said. "It's certainly not any stronger now than it was at the time of trial."

The man Jerry suspects of killing his wife is now 26. D.B. had no criminal history ten years ago. That's no longer true. D.B. has grown into a young man with repeated convictions involving harassment and assaults on women. Last month, he was charged in King County with three felonies after allegedly forcing his way into a Shoreline woman's home and threatening to kill her.

Following are excerpts from the decision handed down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, on March 10, 2000. Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Sidney Thomas and District Judge John Sedwick unanimously acknowledged "there was direct evidence tending to connect D.B. (the other suspect) with the crime..."

D.B.'s Connection with the Jones Family:

"... D.B. had not been truthful about his activity on the night of the murder..."
"... D.B. had written sexually explicit notes and several derogatory letters... about Lee ..."
"... D.B. repeatedly mentioned how sexy he found the victim."
"... D.B. attempted to enter Beth's window on several occasions..."
"... D.B. continually attempted to scare Beth's younger brother by growling at him..."
"... Jerry Jones had escorted D.B. off the Jones' property..."
"... D.B. had boasted he could break into her house at any time..."
"... D.B. had gotten into her handbag ... and that her house key was missing..."
"... D.B. was asked whether he had murdered Lee Jones. He asserted his privilege against self-incrimination..."
"... D.B. called the Jones' house several times" (on the day of the murder).
"At 9:45 p.m., D.F. (friend of D.B.'s) received a phone call from D.B. asking if D.F. wanted to join him at Beth Jones' house because there were police cars there."
"... the first officers did not arrive until 10:04 p.m."
"... D.B.'s sister testified he did not come home at all that evening."
"... D.B. was familiar with the layout of the Jones' home..."
"D.B. usually visited Beth around 9:30 or 10:00..."
"D.B. usually scared Thomas by growling."
"... Thomas stated that he heard growling noises in the house on the night of the murder..."
"D.B. had threatened to break into the Jones home in 1988..."
"... Beth told D.B. her house would be locked, but he said he would still be able to break in."
"... D.B. had taken things from her handbag... she was missing a house key she had kept in the bag. The key was to the ... door that was found ajar on the night of the murder"
"... D.B. and her mother did not get along... her mother had a strong dislike for him."
"... D.B. would refer to Beth's mother as "sexy;"... he told Beth that he hated her mother in an "very extreme" manner."

D.B.'s Other Violations of the Law:

"... D.B. had threatened to murder a woman."
"... a threat D.B. had made ... to kill all court personnel."
"... D.B. had admitted breaking into a pop machine using a stolen key..."
"... D.B. had made telephone calls threatening to kill the new boyfriend..."
"... D.B. had violated a protective order by telephoning the victim 25-30 times and threatening to kill her."
"... D.B. had screamed obscenities at court staff..."
"... D.B. had again violated a domestic violence anti-harassment order."
"... D.B. had broken into a woman's home and threatened to kill her."
"... D.B. allegedly beat up a woman, cut her with broken glass, assaulted witnesses and threatened to kill them if they went to the police."
"An allegation by a woman that D.B. had raped her at knifepoint."
"Evidence that D.B. had threatened to cut off his girlfriend's head, and that D.B. was known to carry knives at times."

How You Can Help

The Jones family has established The Jerry Jones Legal Defense Fund. Your donation should be made payable to this fund and can be mailed to:

The Jerry Jones Legal Defense Fund
P.O. Box 2577
Kirkland, WA 98033-2577

Or, donations can be deposited directly to:

Account # 63580328
at any branch of Bank of America.

E-mail: jonesfund@earthlink.net

Web site: http://home.earthlink.net/~jonesfund

The Jones family assures us that 100 percent of your contribution will be used to offset the cost of defending Jerry Jones and putting the D.B. evidence before a jury. This donation should be made as a monetary gift and is not tax deductible.

Sources:
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The Herald
The Jerry Jones Defense Fund

Justice Denied

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