A 33-year-old Spokane man convicted of possessing a stolen El Camino in April 2019 had his jury verdict tossed by a panel of appellate judges Tuesday, who ruled a prosecutor had misstated the law.
Alex M. Jones was charged with possession of a stolen motor vehicle after leading a Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy on a short chase in the early morning hours of Jan. 20, 2019. The 1981 Chevy pickup/utility car had been reported stolen from a nearby auto shop a few days prior, and Jones was driving with a fraudulent trip permit, according to court records.
At trial, Jones argued that he believed he’d purchased the vehicle legitimately from a third party. Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Deric Martin told the jury there was ample evidence to show that Jones knew the car was stolen, based on his behavior and the presence of tools typically used in car theft in the El Camino. But the jury could also convict, the prosecutor said, if the evidence showed Jones should have known the car was stolen.
That was a misreading of Washington state law and prejudiced the jury against Jones, three judges of the Washington Court of Appeals ruled.
“We hold that the State presented sufficient evidence to convict Jones, but that the prosecuting attorney engaged in misconduct when misstating to the jury the legal standard for possessing a vehicle one knows to be stolen,” Judge George Fearing wrote in his 27-page opinion for the unanimous panel. A jury must find that the defendant knew the car to be stolen in order to convict, they ruled, citing Washington Supreme Court precedent.
The judges ordered a new trial for Jones on the charge. Jones’ defense attorney did not object to the prosecution’s statements at closing, according to court records.
The appellate attorney for Jones did not return a phone call for comment Tuesday. Prosecuting Attorney Larry Haskell could also not be reached for comment on the decision.
Jones was sentenced to 50 months in prison as a result of the jury verdict, but that sentence also included time imposed for other crimes that he’d previously pleaded guilty to. Those included possession of a stolen motor vehicle, attempting to elude police custody and residential burglary.
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