Stung when a prisoner on furlough was linked to the rape of a 14-year-old girl, Spokane County prosecutors no longer will consent to jail releases involving convicted felons.
From now on, Prosecuting Attorney Jim Sweetser said Thursday, inmates with felony records will be viewed as “unacceptable risks, who I feel should not be on the streets.”
In the past, prosecutors used their own discretion in deciding whether to fight or support requested furloughs.
Sweetser announced the policy change the same day The Spokesman-Review reported that a man furloughed with his office’s approval is accused of attacking a Spokane girl.
Two days after his release, James Edward Jones beat and threatened to kill the girl before twice raping her in a South Hill garage, police said.
Jones, 44, was arrested before dawn Friday. He is in jail, charged with first- and second-degree rape and unlawful imprisonment.
“Nobody could have anticipated that he would go out and rape somebody while he was out for a week,” Sweetser said.
The new policy will force judges to hold a hearing on every furlough request, said Chief Assistant Public Defender Richard Fasy.
Now, defense attorneys and prosecutors can save time by ironing out an agreement outside of court, then asking a judge to sign the prepared order, Fasy said.
“This puts a greater strain on the whole system,” he said.
Described by county corrections officials as a “career criminal,” Jones has a long criminal record, including convictions for burglaries, first-degree theft and escape.
He was furloughed from the Spokane County Jail on Aug. 6 with the approval of Deputy Prosecutor Kathryn Lee, who supervises the office’s major crimes unit.
At the time, Jones was awaiting sentencing for theft.
Lee and Jones’ attorney, George Caplan, signed a proposed order granting the eight-day furlough.
The order was approved by Superior Court Judge James Murphy, who said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of Jones’ prior record and thought he was dealing with a small-time thief.
Sweetser did not criticize Lee’s decision, but he didn’t support it, either.
“I’ve already talked to her, and I’ve got her justifications on it,” he said. “Kathryn is bright, intellectual and a great writer. She does a tremendous amount of work. She’s right. Hindsight is 20-20. I’ve got to look at a solution at this point.”
It was the second time recently that Sweetser found himself answering questions about decisions made by Lee.
Last week, Lee was criticized by a detective and crime victim for allowing a man with eight felony convictions to walk away from an attempted robbery charge.
The prosecutor said evidence in the case was “real thin,” even though the would-be robber was identified by the convenience store manager and caught in the act by a security camera.
Lee has been an attorney for 17 years. She was promoted to major crimes supervisor last January.