Jailhouse informant faces skepticism in court

By SCOTT NORTH

Herald Writer

A former jailhouse "snitch" with a lengthy criminal record will have most of his unsavory past paraded in front of jurors if he testifies early next year that a former Bothell man confessed that he’d killed his wife, a murder the man has spent years insisting he did not commit.

An attorney for Jerry B. Jones Jr., 54, on Thursday asked Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Gerald Knight for broad leeway in questioning the man, who claims Jones confessed to him in prison in 1995 that he had stabbed his wife to death seven years earlier.

Jones flatly denies the claim, and his attorney, David Zuckerman of Seattle, told Knight that fairness demands that jurors know about the informant’s history of testifying against others in high-profile cases. He also said jurors need to know about the man’s long criminal past, which, among other things, includes a conviction for kidnapping and robbing his own mother.

Knight ruled that Jones should be given the chance to challenge the man on several fronts at his second trial, which is now set for January.

Deputy prosecutor Ron Doersch said at this point he remains undecided on whether to call the man as a witness.

In 1989, Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the death of his wife, Lee Jones, 41. The woman was stabbed more than 60 times in the bathroom of the Joneses’ home.

Jones spent a decade behind bars, insisting that he’d been wrongly convicted and that his wife had been killed by an intruder, whom he believes was a neighborhood teen-ager.

In 1999, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour threw out the conviction and freed Jones, ruling that he’d received ineffective assistance of counsel because his former attorney had failed to adequately investigate the intruder claim before the first trial.

Jones and Zuckerman allege the murder was actually the work of a neighbor boy, then 15. The youth was infatuated with one of Jones’ daughters and had been ordered away from the home by her parents, Knight was told. He’s grown up to be a troubled young man, with repeated convictions involving assaults against women.

Zuckerman said the man’s criminal history since the killing shows that Lee Jones’ death was just part of what has become a long-standing pattern of obsession and violence directed against women. He asked Knight to rule that the defense be allowed to present evidence pointing to the former neighbor as Lee Jones’ likely killer.

Knight said he’s inclined to allow testimony about the young man’s behavior at the time of the murder. But he ruled that jurors will not be told about the man’s convictions and other misdeeds as an adult.

The defense has not made a sufficient showing that the man’s subsequent bad acts are connected to the murder. The allegations "generate heat, but shed no probative light" on the question of who killed Lee Jones, Knight ruled.

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