Court overturns Kent man's murder conviction of Federal Way woman

A 27-year-old Kent man convicted of the second-degree murder of a 75-year-old Federal Way woman in 2008 had that decision overturned Monday by the state Court of Appeals.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, May 3, 2011 11:38pm
  • News

A 27-year-old Kent man convicted of the second-degree murder of a 75-year-old Federal Way woman in 2008 had that decision overturned Monday by the state Court of Appeals.

The court found that Joseph Njonge had his right to a public trial violated when the court arranged seating for all potential 65 jurors during jury selection.

Njonge worked as a nursing assistant at the Garden Terrace Alzheimer's Center of Excellence in Federal Way. Relatives found the body of Jane Britt dead in March 2008 in the trunk of her car parked at that nursing home where she had visited her husband. Britt had been beaten and strangled.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said he will appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.

Trial Judge Laura Gene Middaugh attempted to find enough seating for the jurors, as well as the public, even considering propping open doors in the courtroom, according to a media release from Satterberg.

When warned by the fire marshal that the doors could not be propped and the hallway could not be blocked, Middaugh used the limited space in the court for potential jurors. Neither the defendant or any member of the public objected, Satterberg said.

But the court overturned the conviction because for a short time the courtroom could accommodate no other members of the public.

“This is the second murder conviction reversed in the last month due to an open courtroom issue that was not objected to by any party and did not harm the defendant’s right to a fair trial in the least bit,” Satterberg said. “The state Supreme Court must bring some clarity to this area of the law. When there is no harm and the defendant was perfectly satisfied with the superior court’s plan, the conviction should stand.”

Britt’s body was found in the trunk of her car, parked outside the nursing home. She died of strangulation.

Prosecutors alleged in the charging papers that DNA testing showed skin cells from Njonge were found under Britt's fingernails. The King County Medical Examiner's Office discovered defensive wounds on Britt's hands that indicated she had struggled with her attacker.

Federal Way Police arrested Njonge in April 2008 at the nursing home. Police found a Costco card belonging to Britt's husband in Njonge's wallet.

Middaugh sentenced Njonge in July 2009 to 16 1/2 years in prison. A jury found Njonge guilty in June 2009 of second-degree murder of Britt.

Njonge pleaded not guilty in April 2008.

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