Jamel Alexander, center, listens as a Snohomish County jury records their verdict of guilty in the murder of Shawna Brune on May 18, 2021 in Everett, Washington. Alexander was convicted of first-degree murder, but he will be getting a new trial. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Jamel Alexander, center, listens as a Snohomish County jury records their verdict of guilty in the murder of Shawna Brune on May 18, 2021 in Everett, Washington. Alexander was convicted of first-degree murder, but he will be getting a new trial. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Appeals court orders new trial in Everett woman’s stomping death

Appellate judges ruled that additional evidence should have been admitted in Jamel Alexander’s trial for the murder of Shawna Brune.

EVERETT — An Everett man convicted in 2021 of stomping a woman to death and leaving her battered naked body near a Highway 99 apartment complex parking lot will get a new trial.

Jamel Alexander was sentenced in May 2021 to nearly 29 years in prison for what prosecutors described as the “savage” 2019 murder of Shawna Brune, 29, of Everett.

At the time, Alexander’s defense attorney argued her client would have been acquitted if jurors had known about evidence they were prevented from seeing.

That excluded evidence eventually resulted in the Court of Appeals overturning Alexander’s conviction.

“Jamel Alexander is glad that he will finally get a fair trial where the jury will actually hear the evidence showing that he is innocent,” said Rachel Forde, Alexander’s defense attorney. “Judge George Appel removed himself from the case. The volume of incorrect rulings during the first trial and the biased statements at the sentencing hearing caused significant concerns that Judge George Appel would be unfair to Jamel Alexander at his new trial.”

A new bail hearing for Alexander is scheduled for Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court.

A top official with the Snohomish County prosecutor’s office expressed disappointment with the ruling.

“But the law is ever evolving, and we accept the new guidance provided by the appellate court,” chief of staff Michael Held wrote via email. “The case will be retried, once again by very experienced, senior (deputy prosecuting attorneys) who will thoughtfully, ethically, and vigorously re-prosecute this crime.”

In their April ruling, the appellate court held that the exclusion of two pieces of evidence — someone else allegedly admitting to the murder and a diary entry that raised questions about the time of the death — should have been heard by jurors.

The court said the evidence could have been used by the defense to question the police investigation and their alleged failure to investigate other suspects. The court also concluded police “exceeded the scope” of their investigation by looking through photographs on Alexander’s phone and that the trial court “abused its discretion” by admitting a video from the Snohomish County Jail of Alexander engaging in self-harm.

At 9 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019, a man walking his dog found Brune’s body near a parking lot off the 11600 block of Highway 99.

Brune was nude, with shoe print marks across her body. An autopsy showed she suffered broken facial bones and brain swelling.

Security footage captured Brune going into the woods the previous night around 9 p.m. with a man wearing a maroon Puma jacket and knit cap with an Oakland Raiders logo. Video showed the man re-emerged from the woods around 30 minutes later, alone, and without the Raiders hat.

Detectives found the cap near Brune’s body. Detectives used other security footage to identify Alexander as the suspect. He later told sheriff’s detectives that he paid Brune for sex, but that he did not harm her.

Alexander’s DNA was found on the hat, along with Brune’s blood, according to court documents. The defendant’s DNA was also found on Brune’s sweater dress and bra that had been ripped off her.

Alexander identified the Puma coat and Vans shoes as his, indicating the clothes could be found in his home. But authorities were unable to find any of the clothes, according to the charges.

On Oct. 19, 2019, Brune’s boyfriend called the police to report he had run into two people who lived in the same apartment complex and sold drugs to Brune, according to the ruling. The boyfriend told police that one of them said, “sorry about your loss for beating her to death but we don’t care — move on.”

The boyfriend reportedly told police the women described, “how they carried her bruised bloody body (and) dropped her on the dirt to die for good,” court documents said.

The trial court excluded that testimony as hearsay. Superior Court Judge George Appel based his decision on the fact the woman who allegedly made the statements refused to testify, making her unavailable for cross examination.

“There is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial could have been materially affected had (her) statements … (been) admitted,” the judges wrote.

Police found Brune’s purse near her body. Inside they discovered a small spiral notebook with several apparent diary entries, according to the ruling. One entry, dated Oct. 11, 2019, the night of her murder, was a handwritten note that suggested it was written at 10 p.m. — after Alexander was seen leaving the area of the murder.

The final entry read:

“I went to Rocky’s for the first time. He thinks it was me that took his (expletive) but I can tell Casey doesn’t think so and is trying to get me back.”

It’s unclear who Brune was referring to.

The appellate court ruled that the date and time of the diary entry was admissible and that the defense could have used it to argue that the police investigation was inadequate.

At trial, Detective Brad Walvatne testified he reviewed the 15½ hours of security footage taken from four cameras at the apartment complex on the night of the murder and the morning after, according to the ruling.

The detective testified that while he watched the video, a motion detection light came on near the trail where Brune’s body was discovered. At approximately 1:20 a.m. Oct. 12, three men appeared in the surveillance footage. The manager of the apartment complex said she did not know who the men were, the judges wrote. Police made a copy of the video covering the hours from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. He said he tasked another detective with preserving the entire footage. Walvatne testified that he later went to look for the additional footage, but that it was lost.

“In this case, police failed to collect surveillance footage from a time when the victim may have been alive and they failed to question other suspects despite receiving a report that the other suspects may have admitted to hurting the victim,” the judges wrote.

The judges also concluded that police exceeded the scope of a search warrant by looking through all the photographs on Alexander’s his cell phone, despite the “date range” limitation on the warrant.

The detective explained he was unable to filter the photographs by date, according to the ruling.

The judges said the broader search was reasonable and likely would have been authorized.

“The problem here is that the explanation came after-the-fact and was not included in the search warrant application itself,” the judges wrote.

The appellate court also rejected the prosecution’s argument that an alleged suicide attempt by Alexander was evidence of his guilt.

On the day of Alexander’s arrest, security cameras show him standing at the booking counter of the Snohomish County Jail and speaking and filling out paperwork. As he walked away from the counter, he began jabbing himself in the neck with a pen, according to the ruling.

Prosecutors argued the “suicide attempt” was evidence of Alexander’s consciousness of guilt and effort to flee the consequences of a murder conviction. The Superior Court Judge agreed and admitted the evidence for that limited purpose, court documents said.

In closing arguments, however, prosecutors didn’t cite the video for that purpose, but instead to demonstrate that Alexander could be calm and cooperative in one moment and suddenly violent the next, the appellate judges wrote.

No Washington court has ever addressed whether suicidal conduct can be admitted as evidence of a defendant’s consciousness of guilt, according to the appellate decision.

The judges ruled the video did not display a suicide attempt.

“Aside from engaging in self-harm with an ink pen — behavior hardly likely to result in death — the State presented no other evidence to suggest Alexander was actually attempting to kill himself to avoid prosecution,” the judges wrote.

Correction: This story has been updated to include a statement from Alexander’s attorney.

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

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