Bothell murder conviction overturned by state appeals court

A Superior Court judge’s edit to a jury instruction upended the verdict in the trial of Jesse Ackerman.

EVERETT — A Seattle man has been granted a new murder trial in a Bothell-area homicide.

The state Court of Appeals overturned Jesse Ackerman’s conviction for second-degree murder in the shooting of Ryan Osborne, citing an error in jury instructions, as well as other legal issues.

Ackerman, now 25, had claimed self-defense.

In the murder trial, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Millie Judge modified a standard jury instruction to read that homicide is justifiable if it’s done to resist a “violent felony,” and “the slayer reasonably believed that the violent felony threatens imminent danger of death.”

The standard language does not include the word “violent,” and another customized instruction noted that “Robbery is a felony,” without stating if it’s a violent one or not. Rather than seeing the amendment as clearing up a hazy legal question for this case in particular, the Court of Appeals found the trial court muddied the state’s self-defense law for the “average juror.”

Court records show Ackerman had smoked heroin with a friend and fell asleep in a green Ford Mustang on Dec. 9, 2016, on a dead end street off Filbert Road. The friend left Ackerman in the car and went out shopping around 2:50 p.m., when a neighbor texted her asking about a familiar Mustang that had its windshield wipers, headlights and turn signal on. The friend told her neighbor that she should knock on the window and tell Ackerman to leave.

According to Osborne’s girlfriend, Osborne went outside to let him know the police had been called, and after he tapped on the window, Osborne came racing back to his home. A bullet struck his lungs and aorta. Osborne, 36, died within minutes.

Charging papers say Ackerman fled and called the same friend, saying Osborne robbed him, without mentioning that he shot him. Minutes later he called again and claimed Osborne pulled out a gun and shot himself, prosecutors wrote.

At trial, the defendant did not dispute that he shot Osborne in the back. Ackerman testified he awoke to find Osborne aiming a gun at him. The men fought, and at one point, Osborne turned away, according to the shooter. Ackerman testified that he heard the gun’s slide racking, and that’s when he fired.

Outside the jury’s presence, lawyers argued over exactly how to phrase the self-defense instruction, in the event that the jury was convinced Osborne had committed a robbery, but that he’d also chosen to walk away from it and no longer posed a threat.

“If the court instructs the jury as requested by the defendant, the jury may reasonably conclude that the defendant was lawfully justified in using lethal force from the mere fact of the preceding felony, regardless of whether there was, at the time the defendant fired his weapon, … a threat of death or great bodily harm,” deputy prosecutor Matthew Pittman wrote in a memorandum.

The judge came up with a compromise that “diluted the State’s burden of disproving justifiable homicide and confused the necessary elements for the jury,” according to the defendant’s argument on appeal. Using the instructions provided, the jury convicted Ackerman of second-degree murder in October 2017.

In an unpublished portion of the ruling last week, the Court of Appeals found police violated Ackerman’s rights by waiting over an hour to read him full Miranda warnings. The trial court also found it was improper that jurors were twice given hints about what Ackerman’s sentence could be: once when the judge said it was not a capital case, and once when they heard a recorded call from jail, where Ackerman fretted over the potential length of his prison term.

Ackerman has been serving a 19-year sentence. He has remained behind bars, pending a retrial.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

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