Alaska Supreme Court overturns murder conviction in 2011 ‘snitch murder’ case

The Alaska Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a 32-year-old Anchorage man sentenced to nearly 60 years in prison for a murder in 2011.

Marquinn Jones-Nelson was found guilty of murder and tampering with evidence related to the shooting death of Devante Jordan at a party in East Anchorage days after Jordan’s 19th birthday. Jones-Nelson was convicted in 2014.

The state’s highest court, in a 47-page opinion released Friday, found that the Anchorage Superior Court judge presiding over the trial read to the jury an incorrect summary of the law of self-defense. ‘State.

As of Tuesday, Jones-Nelson was still imprisoned at the Wildwood Correctional Center, where he has been imprisoned since March 2011, according to the Alaska Department of Corrections.

His attorney contacted him on Friday, just after the state Supreme Court’s opinion was released, to tell him the news.

“He cried,” said Cynthia Strout, a longtime Anchorage attorney who specializes in criminal appeals. Then, Strout said, she explained what would happen next before speaking to family members as well.

Strout said the decision underscores the importance of careful drafting of jury instructions.

“Alaska has a very strict self-defense statute,” she said. “And the Legislature wanted it to be followed.”

[Previous coverage: ‘Snitch killing’ or self-defense? Murder trial opens in 2011 case]

The Supreme Court returned the case to Anchorage Superior Court. Now Jones-Nelson is reverting to the status of someone just arrested for murder and evidence tampering. He is expected to get a status hearing within the next 30 to 45 days, according to state Justice Department officials.

At that hearing, the judge will set bail based on several factors, including the likelihood of Jones-Nelson fleeing the state and any danger he poses to the community.

After the arrest, in March 2011, federal authorities charged Jones-Nelson with trafficking crack cocaine. He pleaded guilty and a judge sentenced him to eight years in prison in this case. He has three prior criminal convictions on his record: a 2008 plea of ​​no contest for felony drug possession; a 2009 misdemeanor for disobeying a court order; and a 2010 conviction for taking contraband to prison.

State Department of Justice prosecutors are still reviewing the notice, said John Skidmore, assistant attorney general for the state’s criminal division.

The state will have to decide if prosecutors want to hold another trial. Lawyers need to see if the evidence used in the first trial — witnesses, physical evidence — is still available now, Skidmore said.

“The typical response to first degree murder is that we absolutely intend to try this case again,” he said. “But we have to do this further assessment before I can definitively answer.”

Prosecutors have called Jordan’s shooting death at a party in a Mountain View apartment days after his 19th birthday a “snitch murder.”

During the murder trial, they said Jones-Allen fired six bullets from a .38 caliber revolver after calling Jordan, who had previously provided authorities with the names of those involved in the 2009 shooting death of 17-year-old caught in a shooting at a party.

During the trial, Jones-Nelson’s attorney said his client shot in self-defense because he thought Jordan was going to hurt him. Witness testimony during the trial differed as to whether Jordan took a gun before the shooting.

Jordan had previously knocked out the smaller Jones-Nelson in a fight and “aggressively” approached him the night of the party, according to a summary included in the Supreme Court’s opinion. Jones-Nelson pulled out a handgun and shot Jordan, got rid of the gun, asked friends to lie about his whereabouts and tried to get fake coins. identity to leave the state.

Alaska law permits the use of deadly force “when and to the extent the person reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion, which includes a dissent from former Chief Justice Joel Bolger, centered on one of three instructions to the jury before it began deliberating.

The problematic jury instruction was written by prosecutor James Fayette, the opinion says. He stated that a basic tenet of self-defense doctrine is that the use of deadly force is unreasonable “…if non-lethal force is demonstrably sufficient to avert the threatened danger”.

“Even in circumstances where a person is authorized to use deadly force in self-defence,” the instruction continues, “that person may still not be authorized to use total deadly force because such extreme force is not not necessary to avert the danger.”

Strout appealed on Jones-Nelson’s behalf, saying the instruction incorrectly suggested that the jury retrospectively assess the use of deadly force “to determine whether the deadly force was in fact objectively necessary, rather than … whether the accused’s use of deadly force was reasonable under the circumstances known to the defendant at the time.

An appeals court agreed that the jury’s instruction was wrong, but found the error harmless and upheld the conviction.

The Supreme Court agreed that the language was flawed, but found that the phrasing flaws were not trivial and were compounded by Fayette’s statements.

At the end of the trial, Fayette told jurors they had to assess Jones-Nelson’s actions based on “the level of violence you would approve of.” This is not what the law requires,” the notice reads. “The prosecutor’s argument also aggravated the erroneous instruction that ‘total’ deadly force is not permitted even if deadly force is.”

Bolger, in his dissent, wrote that the “vital question” at the center of the opinion is “whether a person who uses deadly force in self-defense is authorized to kill his assailant when killing is not reasonably necessary” .

The chief justice, who is now retired, disagreed with what he took to be the court’s view that such force could be justified even if it was not necessary.

Alaska’s self-defense laws limit the use of force “to the extent ‘the defendant reasonably believes it is necessary,’ Bolger wrote. “This language prevents a defendant from using excessive force in various circumstances where the use of lesser force may be justified.”

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