Appeals court orders new hearing in 2008 killing near Tulalip

The court ruled competency evaluations of Jamall Baker overlooked medical records detailing a brain injury.

Logo for news use featuring the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118

TULALIP — After a defendant served over 13 years in prison for shooting and killing a man just north of the Tulalip Reservation, appellate judges have ruled the case should go back to Snohomish County courts for review.

Jamall Baker, then 33, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for shooting Nicky Schoonover Jr. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison in March 2010.

The new ruling raises questions about whether Baker was competent to stand trial or enter a guilty plea, because of a brain injury he suffered from the effects of an overdose around the time of his arrest.

The case against Baker, now 47, was delayed because state doctors ordered three separate competency evaluations to determine if the defendant was fit to stand trial, according to court records. Each report determined Baker could stand trial.

Two years before a judge sentenced Baker, Schoonover’s body was discovered in a vacant lot near the 8100 block of 140th Street NW. He’d been shot multiple times. He was 36.

In February 2008, Schoonover went to a Money Tree with Baker and co-defendant Elmer Sampson to cash his check, according to court records. They later took him to an empty lot and killed him.

Sampson pleaded guilty the next year to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Detectives believed Baker and Sampson killed Schoonover to steal his $800 disability payment.

In late 2022, Baker filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing he was “neurologically not competent due to an anoxic assault” — meaning his brain had been deprived of oxygen —according to the appeals court ruling. Baker also claimed he had ineffective counsel because his lawyers failed to obtain medical records from the cardiac arrest he suffered after his overdose.

“From a neurological standpoint, there is solid evidence that Mr. Baker was not competent to participate in his legal defense many months following his cardiac arrest,” a neurologist wrote in 2021.

The doctor also concluded prior experts who found the defendant competent “did so without having had access to material medical facts about Mr. Baker’s cognitive abilities.”

The appeals court judges wrote this month that they “cannot determine” whether Baker’s previous evaluations were conducted correctly because the medical records detailing his “anoxic assault” were not considered.

Without understanding the impact of these medical records, it also couldn’t be determined whether Baker’s legal counsel was ineffective, the judges noted.

Baker’s lawyers did show “sufficient concern” for Baker’s ability to stand trial by ordering the three competency evaluations, but did not take steps to ensure future exams included the Providence medical records, according to the ruling.

The Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Jonathan Tall: 425-339-3486; jonathan.tall@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @EDHJonTall.

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