SEATTLE — A state appeals court has ordered a new hearing to evaluate a man’s claims that he was wrongly convicted in the shooting of a Washington state trooper who later became a sheriff.
Martin Jones is serving a 50-year sentence after being convicted of shooting Scott Johnson in 2010 in Long Beach, a tourist town on the southwest Washington coast. Johnson was elected sheriff after the shooting and served two terms before losing a re-election bid last fall.
Jones’ attorney, Lenell Nussbaum, requested a new trial two years ago, citing new evidence that included a sworn declaration from Peter Boer, a local drug dealer, that on the night of the shooting, his brother Nicholas, a repeat felon, confessed to it and asked him to dispose of gun parts. Several people had also called police to say that a composite sketch of the suspect that aired on television news closely resembled Nick Boer.
The lone witness to the shooting — a tow-truck driver — told police Jones wasn’t the culprit, but Johnson said he was.
On Thursday, a three-judge state Court of Appeals panel said a superior court judge should evaluate whether the new evidence is admissible in court, and if so, whether Jones’ conviction should be overturned. In a concurring opinion, one of the judges, Thomas Bjorgen, said the information presented in the appeal “tend to create a reasonable doubt as to Jones’s guilt.”
“The new evidence before us is of a highly compelling nature: among other matters an admission to the crime by another individual, multiple identifications of that individual from a composite sketch made from a description by a witness at the scene, and evidence that the same individual made serious threats against another if he was not given an alibi for the night of the shooting,” Bjorgen wrote.
Nussbaum called the ruling “a huge deal for Marty.”
“Our end goal has always been a new trial,” she said Friday. “What we’ve accomplished is a huge step in that direction.”
In interviews with The Associated Press in 2017, Nick Boer denied having shot the trooper, calling his brother “exotic in his imagination,” and Johnson also denied it.
Johnson was helping the tow-truck driver impound a minivan around 1 a.m. on Feb. 13, 2010, when he was shot. The van had been driven by Jones’ wife, Susan, who had just been arrested for drunken driving. The .22-caliber bullet broke apart and remains lodged near the base of Johnson’s skull.
Phone records showed that Jones had been at his house shortly before the shooting. He was arrested the next morning.
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 (2 kilometers), or possibly drove part of that distance, to her van. He saw and spoke with the 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 after reviewing the case as part of Jones’ appeal.