State argues against bond reduction for long-jailed murder defendant Washington, notes that all 11 delays have been at defendant’s request

photo by: Mackenzie Clark / Journal-World File Photo

From far left to far right in this file photo from Oct. 1, 2019, Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria, defendant Rontarus Washington Jr., defense attorney Angela Keck, defense attorney Adam Hall, prosecutor CJ Rieg and trial assistant Michelle Walter stand as jurors enter the courtroom.

Prosecutors have asked a judge not to grant a request to lower the bond for a man who has been in jail for more than five years, arguing that the coronavirus pandemic is not as big a concern locally as it is elsewhere, and that after years of hearings and a trial, the court has chosen to maintain bond at its set amount.

Rontarus Washington Jr., 24, was arrested in early 2015 and charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the November 2014 death of his 19-year-old neighbor, Justina Altamirano Mosso. He has been awaiting a second trial since the jury hung after his first four-week trial, which ended in October 2019.

Washington’s bond has remained at $750,000 cash or surety, which would presumably require $75,000 to be paid to a bondsman upfront to secure his release. His defense attorneys earlier this month filed a motion requesting that his bond be lowered to $20,000 largely due to concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has also raised concerns about the feasibility of jury trials in the near future.

However, prosecutors argue in their response that the concerns the defense cited about COVID-19 and jail conditions did not apply to Douglas County, which as of Thursday had 105 reported cases throughout the pandemic. By Monday, though, the total had increased to 159 cases, the Journal-World reported.

In their response, Senior Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Alice Walker and CJ Rieg, former chief assistant DA who now works for the state attorney general but is still prosecuting Washington’s case, also acknowledge the years that Washington has spent in the custody of the Douglas County Jail.

Prosecutors included an exhibit with their response: a six-page table detailing each continuance in the case. They wrote that Washington’s jury trial has been set and continued 11 times, each time at the request of defense counsel, and that “zero days of speedy trial had been assessed to the state” because Washington had waived that right multiple times. Under state law, a defendant in custody must be brought to trial within 150 days of being bound over for trial.

About a month after Washington was first charged in March 2015, his family hired Lawrence defense attorney Sarah Swain to represent him. Washington was bound over for trial following a preliminary hearing that September. In January 2016, Swain withdrew from the case, writing in a motion that the defendant had not paid for her services. The judge at the time appointed new counsel for Washington — his current team of Angela Keck and Adam Hall.

Following their appointment, Keck and Hall have raised a number of concerns regarding evidence in the case. They have hired experts, including one who has requested additional DNA testing multiple times. There have been hours’ worth of motions hearings leading up to trial dates over the years to determine what the judge will or will not allow to be admitted as evidence.

One delay in March 2019, the last before the case actually proceeded to the first trial that September, was agreed upon by both sides. The Journal-World reported that Altamirano Mosso’s phone could finally be unlocked, and that both sides thought that evidence was probably crucial to the case. Once the phone could be processed, its contents had to be translated from Spanish, which prolonged the delay.

“It’s kind of a critical piece of evidence,” Rieg said at the time, according to previous Journal-World coverage. “That’s why I’ve been trying to get it open for the past four years.”

The delay in unlocking the phone was attributed to new software that enabled investigators to perform a new technique that they previously couldn’t. However, during the first trial, the digital forensics detective who testified about unlocking the phone said that it was actually that “my brain got updated with training that allowed me to do it,” and it was unclear how long the software had existed.

Prosecutors write in the new response that the court has heard years of motions and evidence regarding the allegations in the case and “has chosen to maintain the bond at its set amount.” They also note, though, that the defense has not requested a bond modification until now.

If the court does find that Washington’s bond should be modified, the state requests that it be set in an amount consistent with a statute that says it should be “sufficient to assure the appearance of such person before the magistrate when ordered and to assure the public safety.”

Court records indicate that the defense has also filed a reply to the state’s response, but that motion has been sealed.

“The Defense reply had attached a report from a purported expert that addresses certain aspects of the case,” Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria said via email Monday. “Because the report contains purported expert opinion, the Court has to make a pre-trial determination whether those opinions would be admissible at trial.”

McCabria said it hadn’t yet been decided whether the defense reply would be taken up at the hearing Wednesday.

Washington’s case has become a central focus of an ongoing protest on Massachusetts Street. Protesters, who have gathered in the area of South Park since Saturday, planned to stay at least until they hear the results of the bond hearing.

Many of them — including Washington’s mother, who spoke at a recent Lawrence City Commission meeting — believe that Washington was unfairly targeted by police as a young Black man. Some protesters, citing evidence presented at Washington’s trial, support the defense theory that the victim’s estranged husband was involved in her death, though the state presented evidence at trial that indicated the husband was not in Lawrence at the time investigators believe Altamirano Mosso was killed.

Washington’s bond hearing is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. The county put out a news release Monday reminding the public that in-person court hearings are still not generally open to nonparties, but that they will be livestreamed on YouTube. The video can be found by visiting and searching “Douglas County District Court.”

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case

June 12, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., jailed 5 years on suspicion of Lawrence murder, to receive new bond hearing; defense alleges misconduct by state

May 4, 2020: DNA testing challenges due to COVID-19 further delay long-pending Lawrence murder case

March 22, 2020: Speedy trial rights are on hold in Kansas. What does that mean for defendants?

March 6, 2020: Retrial date set for Rontarus Washington Jr. in 2014 Lawrence murder case

Feb. 28, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr. defense pursues independent lab to avoid alleged KBI bias in Lawrence murder case

Feb. 24, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr.’s retrial date still pending in Lawrence murder case; DNA testing timeline uncertain

Feb. 3, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., in jail 5 years in pending Lawrence murder case, will wait longer as defense requests more DNA testing

After the trial — Oct. 7, 2019: In Lawrence murder trial deliberations, majority of jurors flipped votes from not guilty to guilty; new trial scheduled

September 2019 trial

Day 20 — Oct. 4, 2019: Jury unable to reach verdict in 2014 Lawrence murder case; prosecutor wants to try again

Day 19 — Oct. 3, 2019: Lengthy Lawrence murder trial could end with hung jury; deliberations to resume Friday

Day 18 — Oct. 2, 2019: Jury continues deliberating in Lawrence murder trial; will resume Thursday

Day 17, closing arguments — Oct. 1, 2019: Prosecutor rehashes defendant’s story’s ‘progression,’ defense emphasizes passion in closing arguments for Lawrence murder trial

Day 17, last of testimony — Oct. 1, 2019: Longtime Cedarwood resident may have seen Lawrence murder victim kissing an unknown man, he testifies

Day 16 — Sept. 30, 2019: Detective: Husband’s phone was en route to Manhattan at time of Lawrence murder victim’s death

Day 15 — Sept. 27, 2019: Defendant and victim’s husband left prints on toilet tank lid used as weapon in Lawrence murder

Day 14 — Sept. 26, 2019: Expert: Partial DNA on Lawrence murder victim’s nail could link to 1 in 2,000 men

Day 13 — Sept. 25, 2019: Lawrence murder defendant tells police he walked in on body, then they accuse him, video shows

Day 12 — Sept. 24, 2019: Neighbors: Defendant in Lawrence murder case requested ride out of state; victim and husband often had screaming arguments

Day 11 — Sept. 23, 2019: Coroner testifies that Lawrence homicide victim likely died of blood loss from multiple stab wounds and other cuts

Day 10 — Sept. 20, 2019: Co-worker of murder victim’s husband lied to Lawrence police, he says; footwear impression expert testifies

Day 9 — Sept. 19, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s best friend testifies, alleges domestic abuse in victim’s marriage

Day 8 — Sept. 18, 2019: Investigator gives jury photo walkthrough of crime scene in Lawrence murder case

Day 7 — Sept. 17, 2019: Husband of Lawrence murder victim wants to stay in U.S. only until case wraps, he testifies

Day 6 — Sept. 16, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s husband recounts alleged infidelity, lack of trust in relationship

Day 5 — Sept. 13, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s husband believed she was pregnant at time of her death, he testifies

Day 4 — Sept. 12, 2019: Cousin testifies about last time she saw Lawrence murder victim alive

Day 3 — Sept. 11, 2019: With jury selected, Lawrence murder trial to proceed

Day 2 — Sept. 10, 2019: Prosecutor questions jury pool about graphic photos, domestic violence, biases in Lawrence murder trial

Day 1 — Sept. 9, 2019: Jury selection begins in trial for 2014 Lawrence murder

Before trial

Sept. 5, 2019: Lawrence murder case, pending since 2014, set for trial next week

March 19, 2019: Last-minute access to victim’s phone prompts another delay for murder trial of Lawrence man now jailed 4-plus years

Feb. 21, 2019: 4 years after slaying, Lawrence homicide victim’s phone may finally be unlocked

Dec. 28, 2018: Defense continues dissecting evidence in murder case against man arrested 4 years ago

Dec. 23, 2018: Citing alleged missteps in 30-year-old New York case, defense lawyer demands coroner be barred from 2 Lawrence murder trials

Oct. 17, 2018: Trial now set to begin 4 years after man’s arrest in slaying of woman at Cedarwood Apartments

June 1, 2018: Douglas County Jail’s longest-serving inmate asks for murder trial to be delayed again

Nov. 19, 2017: Psychologists fill in picture of man accused of violently stabbing young Lawrence woman to death

Oct. 23, 2017: Mental competency evaluation for Cedarwood Apartments murder suspect done, but disputed

May 16, 2017: Competency evaluation ordered for man accused in 2014 Cedarwood Apartments slaying

Sept. 4, 2015: Homicide victim’s husband recounts ‘bad’ relationship with wife; man charged in death bound over for trial

Sept. 3, 2015: Coroner: November stabbing death of Lawrence woman, 19, was ‘overkill,’ ‘personal’

April 20, 2015: Homicide victim’s ex ordered to appear at preliminary hearing; affidavit sheds more light on the killing

March 16, 2015: Lawrence man charged with murder in death of woman at Cedarwood apartments

Jan. 16, 2015: Mississippi officials unsure when homicide suspect may have extradition hearing; accused was victim’s neighbor

Jan. 15, 2015: Man arrested in connection with November murder of 19-year-old Lawrence woman

Dec. 2, 2014: Police: Still no arrest in woman’s homicide, language barrier an added hurdle to investigation

Nov. 25, 2015: Cedarwood homicide victim buried in Mexico

Nov. 18, 2014: Police identify homicide victim at Cedarwood Apartments as 19-year-old woman

Nov. 11, 2014: No arrests, suspects in Cedarwood possible homicide; investigators remain on scene

Nov. 10, 2014: Police investigating possible homicide at Cedarwood apartments


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