Thursday, April 29, 2004

2004 Evidence Review... Winchester Star article

Mal-Retardation in City Government thwarts man's freedom

By Laura Arenschield
The Winchester Star

A Winchester man’s decade-long fight to reverse his murder conviction hit another roadblock on Thursday in Winchester Circuit Court.

Jeffrey Franklin Washington, 32, who pleaded guilty 10 years ago to killing and robbing a 22-year-old Winchester man, has spent the time since then trying to get his trial thrown out.

His most recent attempt began last December, when he filed a lawsuit charging that a city prosecutor — now a local defense attorney — and his defense attorney — now a 26th Circuit Court judge — worked together to trick him and the court system.

But retired Circuit Court Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. of Manassas said on Thursday that Washington’s accusations are not true.

He dismissed Washington’s suit, leaving the convicted killer with few options.

“He can appeal the court’s decision today to the Virginia Supreme Court,” said David B. Hargett, Washington’s attorney for the suit. “Beyond the Supreme Court, if we appeal and are denied, it would take additional new evidence for him to get a new trial.”

Had Washington been convicted of capital murder 10 years ago, and had a Winchester Circuit Court jury decided he deserved it, he could have been executed.

Rather than risk that outcome, Washington, then 23, and his attorney, John R. Prosser, opted for a plea bargain with then-Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul H. Thomson.

Washington pleaded guilty to eight charges, including first-degree murder, for the shooting death of Carlos Darnell Marshall, who lived on Woodstock Lane.

He entered Alford pleas, a legal option that allowed him to admit that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him, but to maintain that he did not commit the crimes.

Circuit Court Judge John E. Wetsel Jr. sentenced him to 70 years in prison, the maximum allowed under the plea bargain.

Because Washington was convicted and sentenced before Virginia legislators abolished parole, he could be released before he serves the full prison term. According to the Virginia Department of Corrections, Washington is eligible for parole in November 2006.

During Thursday’s hearing, Haggert argued that Washington agreed to the plea deal because he was afraid he would be convicted of capital murder.

Haggert said Washington also pleaded guilty because police and prosecutors intimidated and threatened witnesses who would have said Washington did not kill Marshall.

Washington was not in the Joint Judicial Center courtroom on Thursday, but participated in the hearing via speaker-phone from Buckingham Correctional Center, near Dillwyn, where he is being held.

He said prosecutors offered his co-defendants lighter sentences in exchange for their testimony against him.

Five men, including Washington, were arrested and charged in connection with Marshall’s death.

Washington was the only one found guilty of murder.

Washington said on Thursday that one of the other four men, John Paul Doleman, made a videotape re-enacting the murder for police investigators, and that the video “never placed me at the crime scene.”

But Assistant Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney Marc H. Abrams said the evidence showed that Washington killed Marshall. All four of the other men at Marshall’s home that night said Washington was the killer.

[Editor's Note: See other article that states:

Also convicted of Marshall’s murder were John Doleman, Rudolph Powell, William Beamer, and Shawn Polston ]

Also NOTE error of journalist... An Alford Plea is NOT an admission of Guilt, rather an admission of likely being convicted. Due perception of abandonment or less than zealous defense by his defense attorney John Prosser, now "rewarded" with a judgeship, and the manipulation of evidence by the Winchester Criminal Justice system, it was a rational decision by Washington to accept the Alford Plea of No Admission of Guilt but to accept a sentence so to live to be able to appeal the injustice to date rendered.]

"Ever since Washington entered his Alford guilty pleas, his father, Franklin Washington, has embarked on a letter-writing campaign to public officials highlighting what he saw as illegal activity in the Winchester Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office regarding his son’s prosecution.]

[Then again NOTE: that one witness did a video "re-construction of the crime" where Jeff Washington was NOT part of the video. ]

“I think the evidence was very strong — very, very strong — in this particular case that the right person was convicted,” Abrams said.

Winchester prosecutors are pleased with Whisenant’s decision, he said.

“Frankly, it’s been very frustrating to be retrying aspects of cases that took place 10 years ago,” Abrams said. “At some point, there needs to be finality. We can’t just have somebody make a new allegation years down the road and then retry old cases.”