Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, center, is flanked by two of his defense attorneys Tim Leary, left, and Emma Scanlan, right, during closing arguments at Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on Thursday, June 20, 2024. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times / Pool)

Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, center, is flanked by two of his defense attorneys Tim Leary, left, and Emma Scanlan, right, during closing arguments at Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on Thursday, June 20, 2024. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times / Pool)

Jurors deliberate in Auburn Police officer Jeffrey Nelson’s murder trial

Nelson did not testify as originally expected. Deliberations to continue Tuesday, June 25

The morning started with concerns regarding posters — approximately 75 posters, discovered by Tim Leary of embattled Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s defense team, glued to the walls of the Maleng Regional Justice Center’s parking lot walls in Kent. The posters referenced prior incidents involving Nelson that served as suppressed evidence.

Leary, who arrived early in the morning, likely prior to the arrival of jurors, removed the posters himself, he stated to Judge Nicole Gaines Phelps, who was overseeing Nelson’s trial.

Judge Phelps asked the individuals responsible for the posters to stop.

“If we find out who you are, and this has implications in this trial, I will look into prosecuting you,” Phelps stated.

Jurors heard the closing arguments of King County prosecutors and Nelson’s defense team on Thursday, June 20 after five weeks of testimonies and presentations of evidence.

Jury deliberations began on Friday, June 21, with the court expecting deliberations to continue into Tuesday, June 25, following a recess on Monday.

It is unknown how long a jury may take to deliberate on a verdict.

Nelson, on trial for two felony charges of murder in the second degree and assault in the first degree, never testified as originally expected.

“You’re going to hear from Officer Nelson. He has been waiting for five years to tell you what happened and to explain what actually occurred to him on that day,” attorney Emma Scanlan of Nelson’s defense team informed jurors in the team’s opening statements on May 16. “Officer Nelson is going to tell you that he went to arrest Jesse Sarey at the Sunshine Grocery Store and that it should have been a routine arrest per a routine offense, but it wasn’t.”

Attorney Kristen Murray of Nelson’s defense team stated the team originally planned to build a case for Nelson’s innocence, but found it no longer necessary after hearing from the state’s witnesses.

“The evidence that we told you about in opening statements that we wanted you to hear came out through the state’s case,” Murray said to jurors in the defense team’s closing statement. “All that important information that we wanted to make sure to get in … came out through the state’s own witnesses, and what the evidence actually showed you … is that Officer Nelson acted lawfully on May 31, 2019.”

With attorney Patty Eakes leading the prosecutorial closing statements, King County prosecutors asked jurors to find Nelson guilty of murder and assault.

“Jesse Sarey didn’t need to die,” Eakes started. “This defendant chose to disregard his training, at each point when he could have safely arrested Sarey.”

With Nelson’s first shot into Sarey’s abdomen constituting the murder in the second degree charge, and the second shot into Sarey’s head constituting the assault in the first degree charge, Eakes argued that Nelson, a trained police officer, unnecessarily escalated a situation with a homeless man experiencing a crisis, and shot Sarey twice in an unreasonable and unjustified manner.

“He was trained about how to deal with people and exactly the situation that he found Mr. Sarey [in]. He just disregarded it. He chose to disregard it,” Eakes stated to jurors.

Nelson’s defense team argued that the prosecutors failed to meet the state’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Nelson’s shooting of Sarey served as unlawful. Nelson’s attorney Murray disputed details regarding the prosecutorial interpretation of events, including whether Nelson physically grabbed Sarey after initially approaching him in front of the Sunshine Grocery or Sarey stood up; whether Sarey fell flat on his back after the first shot or continued to move; whether Sarey’s contact with Nelson’s firearm served as an incidental contact or an intentional grab for his gun; whether Nelson had one to two seconds or up to four seconds to assess for continued threat following the first shot; and more.

“When you start to analyze these situations, pixel by pixel, moment by moment, it doesn’t count for those split second decisions,” Murray stated to jurors. “It’s meant to be looked at [from] the perspective of the officer in the moment — in the moment that the force had to be used. … We can’t expect officers to make perfect decisions. We can’t expect that of anyone. That’s not reality, that’s not life.”

With the completion of three hours of closing statements, Judge Phelps sent Nelson’s case to the hands of jurors.

BACKGROUND INFO

In May 2019, Nelson shot and killed Jesse Sarey after attempting to arrest Sarey for jaywalking. Over a year later in 2020, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg filed assault and second-degree murder charges against Nelson for the killing of Sarey.

Nelson is the first officer in Washington to be charged with murder since the passage of Initiative 940, which changed the standard for holding police criminally liable for excessive use of force.

Prior to Initiative 940, prosecutors had to prove a police officer acted with evil intent when they killed someone in the line of duty in order to charge that officer with murder — essentially an impossible standard to meet, Satterberg said.

Under Initiative 940, prosecutors now have to prove that a different, reasonable officer would not have used deadly force in the same situation.


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