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Federal Way murder conviction overturned
The man convicted of murdering 75-year-old Jane Carol Britt in 2008 and stuffing her body in the trunk of her car had that decision overturned Monday by the Washington State Court of Appeals.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has vowed to appeal the case to the State Supreme Court.
The Court of Appeals found that Joseph Njonge had his right to a public trial violated when the court arranged seating for all potential 65 jurors during jury selection.
The trial judge attempted to find enough seating for the jurors, as well as the public, even considering propping open doors in the courtroom, according to Satterberg. When warned by the fire marshal that the doors could not be propped and the hallway could not be blocked, the judge used the limited space in the court for potential jurors. Neither the defendant or any member of the public objected, Satterberg said.
But that wasn’t good enough for the Court of Appeals, because for a short time the courtroom could accommodate no other members of the public, except members of Britt’s family.
“This is the second murder conviction reversed in the last month due to an open courtroom issue that was not objected to by any party and did not harm the defendant’s right to a fair trial in the least bit,” Satterberg said. “The State Supreme Court must bring some clarity to this area of the law. When there is no harm and the defendant was perfectly satisfied with the superior court’s plan, the conviction should stand.”
Njonge worked at a Federal Way nursing facility, where Britt’s husband stayed until he passed away and at which Britt frequented often. Britt’s body was found in the trunk of her car, parked outside the home. She died of strangulation.
Njonge’s DNA was found under the woman’s fingernails and he was in possession of her husband’s Costco card upon his arrest. It appeared as though there was a struggle.
Njonge, among others, took care of Britt’s husband at the home. Britt complained to staff that her husband was not being properly cared for, reports said.
The suspect pleaded not guilty April 2008. The Kenya native has no prior criminal record, with the exception of traffic tickets, reports said.