Rontarus Washington Jr., former longtime defendant in murder case, pleads guilty to 2 felonies in connection with Topeka armed robbery

photo by: Mugshot courtesy of the Shawnee County Sheriff's Office

Rontarus Washington Jr. is pictured with the Shawnee County Jail.

A man who spent over five years in the Douglas County Jail accused of a brutal murder before his case was ultimately dismissed has pleaded guilty in a robbery case in Topeka in which he was accused of striking a store clerk with a gun.

The man, Rontarus Washington Jr., 27, of Topeka, was charged in Shawnee County District Court with one felony count each of aggravated robbery, aggravated battery, felony interference with law enforcement, and one misdemeanor count of attempted battery on a law enforcement agent, according to charging documents.

On Oct. 31, Washington pleaded guilty to one count of attempted robbery and one count of aggravated battery, both of which are person felonies, according to a plea agreement with the state. The state dismissed the remaining charges as part of the agreement.

Both convictions are midlevel felonies, and for someone with little to no criminal history, like Washington, the sentence is presumed probation with an underlying prison term, according to the Kansas sentencing guidelines. However, if Washington is convicted of any felony in the future, Kansas law would require that he serve whatever time he’s sentenced to in prison, unless a judge found compelling reasons to grant probation.

According to Washington’s agreement, he has no convictions that would affect his current sentence, and the state will recommend 12 months on each count, to run consecutively, for a total of two years in prison if Washington fails to comply with his probation conditions.

Court records indicate that Washington was released on a $15,000 own-recognizance bond after he entered his guilty plea, meaning he was not required to pay any money to be released from jail but may be charged that amount if he fails to appear in court. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 27.

The robbery and battery charges are in connection with an incident on Aug. 24 at Max’s Oakmart, a convenience store at 2518 NE Seward Ave. in Topeka, as the Journal-World reported.

According to an affidavit in support of Washington’s arrest, two officers saw Washington run from Max’s and jump over a nearby fence while a female clerk ran out of the store behind him. An officer examined the store’s surveillance footage and saw Washington follow the clerk into the store with a gun drawn before striking the clerk in the back of the head with the gun and taking money from the register, later determined to be $702.

Other officers pursued Washington as he ran from the store and tracked him to a nearby residence, where Washington was attempting to enter a camper next to the house. Washington had removed most of his clothing and his pants were around his ankles when officers approached him.

An officer later recovered Washington’s shoes that could be seen in the surveillance footage. The shoes had been thrown on top of the house where the camper was parked. An officer also located a black pellet gun that looked like a real gun inside the camper that police believe was used in the robbery, according to the affidavit.

Once in custody, police said, Washington was uncooperative with officers and at one point tried to bite an officer and refused to identify himself. He finally identified himself after being told that if he was booked as a “John Doe” he would not be eligible for bond.

Washington filed suit against Douglas County for wrongful incarceration earlier this year in connection with his Lawrence murder trial. In January 2015 he was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in the death of his neighbor, Justina Altamirano Mosso, 19, who was found Nov. 9, 2014, at her Lawrence apartment after having been repeatedly bludgeoned and stabbed. Washington was eventually tried by then District Attorney Charles Branson’s office in 2019, and the jury could not reach a verdict. He was in jail for more than five years, which generated protests in Lawrence and a successful effort to get his $750,000 bond reduced so that he could get out of prison with the help of community members who believed he was wrongly accused based, in part, on his race.

The current district attorney, Suzanne Valdez, dropped the first-degree murder case against him on Dec. 22, 2021, saying she had elected to “cease prosecution” and that “justice delayed was justice denied.” The case was dismissed without prejudice on Dec. 27, 2021, meaning it could be brought again.

The wrongful incarceration suit was dismissed last month by a federal judge, and Washington was given 120 days to file an amended complaint to correct “deficiencies” in the lawsuit, as the Journal-World reported.

Since the dismissal, though, Washington’s attorneys, Larry G. Michel and Christopher J. Kellogg, both of Salina, have filed motions to withdraw from the case because they had taken new jobs that prevented them from continuing as Washington’s lawyers, according to court records.

The murder remains unsolved.


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