A MAN TRAPPED IN THE SHACKLES OF PROSECUTORIAL TACTICS DESIGNED TO SECURE A CONVICTION : JACE WASHINGTON
On May 6th, 2007, 19-year-old Jace Washington was arrested by detectives in Slidell, Louisiana. Following his arrest, the state charged him with second-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter.
Before Washington’s arrest on May 6th, on April 29, 2007, law enforcement officers responded to an armed robbery in a mobile home in Slidell. A man had been shot and killed by one of the robbers. Glen Carter immediately emerged as the first suspect. He was questioned by officers and he confessed to his participation in the robbery. He also informed the officers he was the shooter.
Carter named Edric Cooper as the person he committed the robbery with. When Copper was arrested and questioned, Cooper named Grant Gethers and Jace Washington as additional participants in the robbery.
Carter later filed a motion to suppress his confession and pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. He went to trial and lost. He is currently serving a life sentence. Cooper and Gethers agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, and they both pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges. They were sentenced to 12 and 8 years in prison, respectively. Both Cooper and Gethers are currently out of prison.
Washington pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him and went to trial. The jury acquitted him of the second-degree murder charge, but a non-unanimous jury convicted him of the manslaughter charge. And although he had no prior criminal history, the state sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Washington’s conviction still stands. However, he has consistently maintained, since the moment of his arrest, that he was never at the mobile home on the day of the robbery, and had no involvement in the robbery.
And evidence that was available at the time of his trial—most of which were not investigated at all—as well as subsequent evidence that emerged after his trial bear him out. It appears Washington’s guilty verdict was secured by prosecutorial misconducts and tactics that if well executed, can successfully turn any ordinary person into a convicted felon.
Washington appealed his conviction on multiple grounds. On one grounds, he argued the evidence the state presented to the jury was insufficient to convict him. The facts of the case that emerged from that appeal are recited below.
Read these facts with caution, however, because when a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, the reviewing court looks at the evidence in that light most favorable to the prosecution. That is, the court looks at the evidence from the point of view of the prosecution to determine whether a reasonable jury could have returned a guilty verdict based on the evidence. So the “facts” below are the prosecution’s theory of the case. It does not mean that is what actually happened. This narrative is accepted as facts on the record because the prosecution did a better job at convincing the jury to believe its theory of the case than the defense did.
Also, it is important to understand what the state insisted happened so that, based on evidence that will be discussed later, one can appreciate how these “facts” could not have actually happened. And most importantly, how grave prosecutorial misconducts could have falsely made them appear as truth.
Here are the facts accepted on the record as recited by the court of appeals:
“To establish the defendant’s guilt, the state presented the following testimony of Cooper, one of the participants in the attempted robbery who pled guilty to manslaughter as a result of the victim’s death. Cooper testified that he, Carter, Gethers, and defendant went to the mobile home where the victim and several other individuals resided for the specific purpose of committing an armed robbery (which he described as going to hit the lick) to get money. After arriving there in two vehicles, they covered their faces to conceal their identities. To further facilitate the plan, Cooper, Carter and defendant each armed themselves with a handgun. Once inside, Cooper and defendant went into a bedroom occupied by two men. While he and defendant held their guns on the men, Cooper demanded money from them. According to Cooper, they heard sudden gunshots from the living room at that point. All four perpetrators fled the mobile home. Cooper got into Carter’s vehicle and defendant got into Gethers’ car, and they left the scene. Carter’s mobile phone began ringing with an incoming call, but he did not answer it. At trial, the state introduced records establishing multiple calls between Carter and defendant’s mobile phones in the period shortly after the shooting.
During the subsequent police investigation, the police seized a 9-millimeter handgun from defendant’s residence. The gun, which belonged to defendant’s father, was introduced into evidence at trial. During his testimony, Cooper identified it as being the same gull that defendant used during the attempted robbery. Additionally, the state introduced the testimony of Carlton Davis and Stanley Doyle, who each testified that Cooper, accompanied by defendant and Gethers, visited them in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the week before the attempted robbery. Both Davis and Doyle testified they saw defendant in possession of a semiautomatic gun during that visit.” 
The state’s case against Washington rested on the following circumstantial evidence:
Edric Cooper was the star witness for the state’s case in chief against Washington. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for his testimony against Washington. However, the facts recited above, and accepted on the record by the court, were not the factual basis under which Cooper pleaded guilty.
For his guilty plea, Cooper told officers that;
Two years after Cooper confessed to the above version of events and three days after Carter’s trial, but before Washington’s trial, Cooper changed his story. It appears he did so because the factual basis he provided, and under which he pleaded guilty, did not match the evidence that had come to light.
Firstly, only Carter and Cooper’s DNA were found in Carters Tahoe. No DNA evidence of Washington or Gethers was found in the car. Therefore, Washington and Gethers could not have driven to and from the crime scene in Carter’s Tahoe as Cooper stated in his plea.
Secondly, Carter was convicted solely on his confession. According to his confession, he and Cooper were the only two who planned and executed the robbery that day. And contrary to what Cooper had told prosecutors, Carter confessed Cooper was not the “lookout”, but was present in the mobile home with him during the robbery.
Thirdly, purchase receipt obtained from Washington’s bank showed Washington had made an in-person purchase outside Slidell around the time Cooper said all four were riding around town.
And fourthly, both Washington and Gethers’ phone records showed that neither of the two was in Slidell around the time Cooper said they were.
In light of this evidence, Cooper changed the factual basis under which he pleaded guilty, to the facts which are currently accepted on the record. He told prosecutors he and Carter rode in Carter’s Tahoe while Washington and Gethers rode in Washington’s car to the mobile home. He admitted he was not the “lookout” but was in the mobile home with Carter. He also changed the chronology of events so that the time he alleged everyone was together matched the time the crime took place.
The effects of these conflicting testimonies were that the prosecution:
All three sets of facts could not have been true. Only one was. And the set of facts obtained from Carter’s confession was the one that the evidence proved took place.
To prove that there was collusion and co-perpetration between Carter and Washington for the crime, the prosecution introduced the following:
Cooper testified that on the day of the incident, Washington called Carter several times before and after the crime. Of the most consequence were the phone calls Cooper testified took place while he and Carter were fleeing the crime scene in Carter’s Tahoe. The state used these phone calls to create the perception that Washington frantically called Carter several times after the robbery because he was nervous someone died.
To back up Cooper’s testimony, the state introduced into evidence a phone number obtained from Washington’s phone. Cooper testified, and the state accepted his testimony, that the number, 985-285-9159 belonged to Carter.
Carter’s phone records, however, proved contrary. According to Carter’s phone records, Carter’s actual number at the relevant time was 985-285-1769. And this number never appeared on Washington’s phone records at any point.
Cooper also testified that when Washington called Carter while they were fleeing from the robbery, Carter never answered his phone or called Washington back because the phone was in Carter’s cup holder.
However, a review of Washington’s phone records reveals these statements could not have been true. Besides the fact that the 985-285-9159 number did not belong to Carter as Cooper falsely testified, the records revealed Washington’s call to that number was returned immediately, and a conversation ensued between the owner of the number and Washington.
Based on information obtained from Washington and Carters’ phone records, the two never called or spoke with each other. Not before, or after the crime.
Washington’s father was the legal owner of a 9-millimeter Ruger handgun. During the execution of a search warrant in the Washingtons’ residence, officers found a 9-millimeter Ruger handgun. Cooper identified this handgun at Washingtons trial as the one Washington possessed during the robbery.
However, this was not the original story Cooper told officers before they obtained and executed a search warrant for the Washingtons’ residence. Neither was this the story Cooper told investigators in his deal to corporate with them.
Cooper initially told investigators that;
Here is a snippet of the conversation between Cooper and Detective Callender regarding the handgun.
Detective Callender: Okay. What gun did you have?
Cooper: I had a black 9mm Luger
And later in the same interview;
Detective Callender asked: And, and just to clarify things, at that trailer you had a nine-millimeter Ruger or Luger?
Cooper responded: Luger, nine millimeters.
Cooper told investigators that he possessed the 9-millimeter Lugar during the robbery. However, after the search warrant revealed that a legally owned 9-millimeter Rugar was found in Washington’s home, he changed his story to say the handgun was a Ruger.
Cooper also told investigators that:
At stated earlier, neither Cooper nor Gethers DNA was found in Carters Tahoe. Therefore, all four accused could not have ridden in the Tahoe, to or from the crime scene as Cooper falsely stated.
Realizing his statements did not pass muster in light of the DNA evidence, Cooper changed his story again. This time he stated Washington, instead of himself, was in possession of the 9-millimeter Rugar handgun during the robbery.
On March 16, 2010, Cooper signed a sworn affidavit in which he admitted he lied about Washington’s involvement in the attempted armed robbery because he was “scared.” At the time, Cooper was a prior felony offender. Had he gone to trial on the murder charge and lost, he would have been sentenced to life in prison as a three-time felony offender.
Here is the statement from Cooper’s sworn affidavit:
“I, Edric Cooper, am writing this to let it be known that Jace nor Grant took no part in the armed robbery/murder crime that took place on April 29th, 2007. Mr. Washington nor Mr. Gethers was not present nor aware of the crime. I falsely implicated (sic) Jace Washington and Grant Gethers because I was scared. On October 13, 2009, I also lied when called as a witness for the State of Louisiana against Jace Washington. I lied about his involvement and Mr. Gethers’ involvement in the crime on April 29th 2007.
My reason for giving the statement as if Mr. Jace Colby Washington [was at the scene] is because he has never been in any kind of criminal trouble and I know that if I would have told the sheriffs that his participation . . . all the blame would (sic) taken off of me.
Glenn Carter and Jace Colby Washington do not know each other, but was made to know each other through my made up statement to the Sheriffs.”
While in prison, Carter, the shooter in the attempted armed robbery wrote a letter to Washington to offer his remorse. Here is a snippet from the letter:
“But when all of that is over, you could send somebody at me to sign the papers for you, since E and Grant not gone do it. I don’t feel like you should be in here anyway, you didn’t do nothing. So like I said let me get my shit situated and I’ma do that for you, I want to see you go home homie. My __ was never intended to harm you or that other n***er, ____ know why I did that, not ____ that to justify any of my actions. Fuck it, I did that! But you on the other hand Ima do everything I could to help you. I never said you came with me, I know who was there and I didn’t see you!..
Carter and Washington had been tried and convicted. And Cooper was ready to testify and say Gethers was a participant in the robbery if Gethers went to trial. The odds did not look good in his favor. Going against the prosecution for a second-degree murder charge when he had a prior criminal record was not a gamble he was willing to make under the circumstance. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. So although he maintained that he was not involved in the robbery, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for 8 years in prison.
The prosecution presented testimony by Carlton Davis and Stanley Doyle. They each testified that Cooper, Washington, and Gethers visited them in Vicksburg, Mississippi, a week before the robbery. Davis and Doyle testified they saw Washington in possession of a semiautomatic gun during that visit.
The prosecution presented this testimony to show that Washington had access to a semiautomatic weapon such as the one he was accused of using in the robbery.
However, in light of the apparent false testimonies that the prosecution accepted from Cooper, even if it were true that the witnesses saw Washington in possession of a gun, that does not mean he used the gun in a robbery.
No evidence of Washington’s DNA was found on the gun Cooper testified Washington used in the robbery.
Shortly after the incident, law enforcement officers questioned two eyewitnesses, Jose Roberto Romero—Echegoyen, and Luis Fernando Martinez—Avila who were roommates of the victims. They were each present in the trailer during the robbery. The eyewitnesses told officers they saw only two masked men enter their trailer. According to them, one of the men was about 5’8 and the other was about 5’10. And they were both dark-skin. They could tell they were dark-skin because their arms were bare. Additionally, they did not see any tattoos on the men’s arm.
Carter and Cooper fit the description of the masked men. Washington did not. Washington was about 6’3, 6’4 tall, extremely light-skin, and had multiple bi-lateral tattoos on his arm.
Both roommates also told detectives that when the masked men entered the trailer, one of the masked men went into the living room where they heard gunshots.
However during Washington’s trial, one of the roommates, Roberto Romero—Echegoyen’s recollections of the events changed. He described hearing fatal gunshots coming from the living room while he was in his bedroom being held at gunpoint by two men. Based on this testimony, the court of appeals reasoned there had to be at least three people involved in the robbery. The court, therefore, rejected Washington’s assertion that only two people were involved in the robbery.
But even if the witness’s change in testimony, which conveniently matches Cooper’s last version of events, is to be believed, Cooper’s testimony still contradicts this evidence. Cooper testified that he and Washington held two men at gunpoint in the bedroom, while Cooper and Gethers went to the living room. But Washington does not fit the description of the men Romero—Echegogyen described held him at gunpoint. According to him, the men were both dark-skin, one was 5’8, and the other was 5’10. Going by that description, Washington could not have been one of the men who held him at gunpoint. Therefore, Washington would have had to be one of the men in the living room. But according to Cooper’s testimony, the men in the living room were Carter and Gethers.
Obviously, Cooper and Romero-Echegogyen’s testimony cannot both be true.
In any event, an eyewitness’s fresh account of events right after the event takes place is more likely reliable than his recollection of the event two years later as was the case here. On the faithful night, Romero-Echegogyen told detectives that he saw only two masked men enter the mobile home. He described both men as dark-skin, one 5’8 and the other 5’10. And he said when the masked men entered the trailer, one of the masked men went to the living room where he heard gunshots.
It is worth noting and reiterating that the court of appeals deals with issues of law, not issues of facts. The court does not act as the fact finder or delve into the facts to determine their credibility. That is the job of the jury. Therefore, if the jury accepts the facts presented to it as credible, the reviewing court does not challenge it unless it finds that no reasonable jury could have returned a guilty verdict for the offense charged based on the facts presented.
It is therefore incumbent on the prosecution to act appropriately and ethically in ensuring only the truth or only information the evidence supports as truth is presented to the jury. It is well established that the duty of the prosecution is to seek the truth, and not merely to secure a conviction. The victims of crimes, as well as society as a whole, are best served if the actual perpetrators of crimes are punished. There is no utility in punishing the innocent.
Walter Reed was the District Attorney (DA) for St. Tammy Parish, the judicial district where Washington was tried and convicted. Under his 30 year reign as the DA, his conviction rate was 98%, well above the state’s average. His reign was so tough that St. Tammy Parish was nicknamed “St. Slammy.” And Reed gave out awards to prosecutors he believed were tough and aggressive, under this nickname.
But Walter Reed and his prosecutors were not securing such high conviction rates under a culture of high ethics and truth-telling. In 2015, Reed himself was indicted by a grand jury for money laundering, making false statements on his tax returns, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to launder money, mail fraud, and wire fraud. Prosecutors accused him of abusing his office and betraying the trust of his constituents through deceit and corruption. A jury found him guilty on 18 of all 19 counts. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison, many years below the sentencing guideline of 9 to 11 years, for his crimes.
Before his incarceration, and while he was still the DA, Walter Reed and his Assistance District Attorney (ADA) engaged in the following grave prosecutorial misconducts to secure a conviction against Washington:
The ADA knew or reasonably should have known that Cooper was not telling the truth. And it is not unreasonable to think that the ADA probably coached Cooper into changing his testimony to fit the evidence as it was gathered. The DNA evidence, purchase receipts, the phone records, and the witnesses’ initial testimony all proved Cooper’s statement implicating Washington in the crime were not true. At this point, Washington should no longer have been a suspect in the crime because there was no other evidence that tied him to the crime. The only way the state could tie Washington to the crime was through Cooper’s testimony. And since the statements Cooper provided them no longer matched the evidence gathered, they allowed him, or probably coached him, into changing his testimony.
On the night of the incident, Detective Callender logged Carter’s number as 985-285-1769 (his actual number). However, about a week before trial, the ADA introduced the 985-285-9159 into evidence as Carter’s. The ADA made no efforts to verify with the mobile phone provider whether the 985-285-9159 actually belonged to Carter. Instead, the ADA allowed Cooper and another witness to testify the number belonged to Carter. After Washington’s conviction, the mobile phone provider confirmed that at no point had Carter been the owner of 985-285-9159. Based on this evidence, it is probable the ADA went through Washington’s phone, found a number Washington had been in contact with on the day of, and around the time of the robbery, and chose that number as “Carter’s number.”
Both Cooper and Gethers signed sworn affidavits where they each recanted their testimonies against Washington. Before Washington was sentenced, a hearing was scheduled on these affidavits. However, the ADA gathered both witnesses and their families and informed the witnesses they would be charged with perjury if they recanted their statements. Granted, at any point, a prosecutor can exercise her discretion to charge a witness with perjury if the evidence supports the charge. However, the ADA in this case seemed to only be concerned with perjury when it supported Washington’s acquittal. When Cooper signed his plea, he swore the facts he had provided were true. When he went to court to testify against Washington, he swore before the judge and the jury, to tell the truth. But the statements Cooper gave in his plea did not match what he gave at Washington’s trial. A comparison of Cooper’s testimony before and during the trial shows he lied multiple times. And yet, at no point did the ADA threatened to charge him with perjury.
At the hearing, Cooper and Gethers gave in to the ADA’s threat and stated that Washington threatened them into recanting their testimonies against him.
Nearly 14 years later, Washington is still in prison. And although the past 14 years have been challenging for him, he remains resilient in his fight to prove his innocence. He has also used the past 14 years as an opportunity to improve on himself. Upon his release, he wishes to continue pursuing his career ambitions, to fulfill his dreams of having a family of his own, and to contribute positively to his community.
In 2014, Washington completed an associate degree in General Studies with Business Emphasis, at the River Parish Community College in Louisiana.
A year later, in 2015, he obtained a paralegal certification from LSU Law School and Northshore Technical Community College in Louisiana.
And in 2020, he completed a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor emphasis in business administration and sociology from Ashland University in Ohio.
The current law appears to be trending in Washington’s favor. Washington was convicted by a non-unanimous jury in the manslaughter charge against him. Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled in Ramous v. Louisiana to ban non-unanimous jury convictions for defendants accused of serious crimes. At the time, Louisiana and Oregon were the only two states that allowed non-unanimous jury convictions for a serious crime.
However, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Louisiana refused to apply the law retroactively. Last year the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Edwards v. Vannoy on whether it’s holding in Ramous should be applied retroactively. The Court’s decision on this case is still pending. But should the court rule that Ramous be applied retroactively, Washington will get an opportunity for a new trial.
And Washington, his family, and friends who have unwaveringly supported him in the past 14 years are optimistic that the truth will prevail this time, should he get an opportunity for a new trial.