YAKIMA, Wash. — A rape trial in Yakima County Superior Court ended abruptly Wednesday with a plea deal that spared the defendant a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Turns out the jury was on the his side.
James Edward Jones, 61, of Yakima was on trial for first-degree rape stemming from an encounter in September 2011 with a 36-year-old woman that he claimed was little more than a drinking session and she claimed was forcible rape.
Jones did time for a 1996 rape conviction in Spokane County, and had he been convicted, he faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole under Washington’s two-strikes law for sex crimes.
But after a weeklong trial in the courtroom of Judge Robert Lawrence-Berrey, both sides reached a deal in which Jones entered what constituted a no-contest plea to a much-reduced charge of third-degree assault in exchange for time served in jail, which was more than a year.
Afterwards, Jones’ attorney, public defender Jeff Swan, said jurors told him they would not have convicted his client of a sex crime.
“Nobody was ever going to convict him of rape. Absolutely not,” Swan said.
Jones was arrested the night of Sept. 6, 2011, after a woman in Post Falls, Idaho, called 911 to report a friend in Yakima had phoned her and said she was being held against her will. Police subsequently found the Yakima woman and Jones in her SUV in the drive-thru lane at the Taco Bell in downtown Yakima.
The accuser told police she encountered Jones earlier in the day after she went downtown to help feed homeless people. She said Jones abducted her, took her to his apartment on Naches Avenue and raped her over the course of several hours.
But inconsistencies in the accuser’s story were evident at trial. They included whether she picked him up or was abducted, as well as her statement that she went into his apartment simply because he told her he had “something cool” to show her.
The woman had some physical injuries to her face, arms and legs. Although Jones told police that he and the accuser had engaged in consensual sex, there was no evidence of rape or of any sexual activity.
With the accuser’s level of sobriety that day in question, the state’s case finally fell apart when the prosecution in mid-trial took the unusual step of having the blood sample from her rape kit tested for alcohol. A rape kit is a term for evidence gathered by medical personnel following an allegation of sexual assault.
Despite her testimony that she had not been drinking, the blood sample showed the accuser had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 percent — more than double the legal limit to drive in Washington.
Asked by a reporter why he ordered the test, deputy prosecutor Jared Boswell answered, “Seeking the truth.”
Swan, meanwhile, said his client was relieved his 14-month ordeal was finally over. He is expected to be released in about three months due to probation issues out of Spokane County.
“He would have preferred that the allegation had not been made in the first place, but he says, ‘You know what? I’m ready to move on.’ ”
• Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org.