The Jefferson County district attorney’s office is looking to ramp up its efforts to deal with the county’s massive backlog of untested sexual assault kits. A pending expansion to a 2016 federal grant would allow the office to increase the rate at which old kits are tested — and would allow for the appointment of a new prosecutor who would focus on those backlogged cases.
The office originally received a federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant in 2016. An inventory that was finished in September 2017 found that 3,876 sexual assault kits — which law enforcement use to collect DNA evidence after a sexual assault — had not been submitted for testing. Since then, 275 kits have been sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for testing, at a rate of 25 per month. But a new expansion to the county’s grant would allow the county to double that rate, sending 50 kits per month to the state lab for testing. Read more.
A judge has dismissed the case against Marshae Jones, whose fetus was killed during a fight in December.
Circuit Court Judge David Carpenter dismissed the case Saturday morning. He dismissed the manslaughter charge on which Jones had been indicted with prejudice, meaning the charge cannot be refiled.
Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynneice Washington announced Wednesday that she was dropping the misdemeanor charge. Read more.
Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynneice Washington announced today that she is dropping a misdemeanor manslaughter charge against Marshae Jones, whose fetus was killed during a fight in December.
A grand jury indicted Jones on a manslaughter charge after hearing evidence that she had initiated a fight with another woman, although it was the other woman who shot Jones, which resulted in the death of the fetus.
In a press conference this morning, Washington read a statement in which she said she will not prosecute Jones on that charge, and no further legal action will be taken.
“This is truly a disturbing and heartbreaking case,” Washington said. “An unborn child was tragically lost, and families on both sides of this matter have suffered. Nothing, nothing, nothing we do today or in the future will change that reality. The issue before us is whether it’s appropriate to try to hold someone legally culpable for the actions that led to the death of the unborn child. There are no winners, only losers, in this sad ordeal.” Read more.
Marshae Jones is facing a manslaughter charge for “intentionally causing the death of her fetus.” She was five months pregnant when she got into a fight last December with another woman outside a Dollar General store near Birmingham, Alabama. That other woman fired a gun in self-defense, according to authorities, and the shot ended Jones’s pregnancy. Because Jones started the fight a grand jury opted to indict her. Attorney Mark White is representing Marshae Jones. He spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish. Read more.
UPDATED — The town of Pleasant Grove, about ten miles outside of Birmingham, Alabama is a quiet place with one grocery store, a few restaurants and a gun shop. But recently, it has been in the international spotlight.
Last December, in the parking lot of a local Dollar General, Marshae Jones, now 28, got into a fight with 23-year-old Ebony Jemison. Officials say Jones, who was five months pregnant at the time, started the fight, which led Jemison to shoot Jones in the stomach in self-defense, killing the fetus.
Initially, charges were filed against Jemison, but two months ago the Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff grand jury dropped those charges and indicted Jones instead. They wrote Jones “did intentionally cause the death” of her fetus by “initiating a fight knowing she was five months pregnant.”
The charges against Jones were made public last week when she was arrested and later released from jail on a $50,000 bond. Since then, the case has drawn outrage from women’s rights groups and legal advocates. Read more.
Lawyers for a Jefferson County woman who was charged last week with manslaughter in the death of her 5-month-old fetus filed a motion to dismiss on Monday.
White, Arnold & Dowd P.C. say the charges against Marshae Jones are “completely unreasonable and unjust.” In December, Jones and another woman, Ebony Jemison, got into a fight outside a Dollar General in Pleasant Grove. Jemison shot Jones in the stomach, killing the fetus, and was charged with manslaughter, but a grand jury failed to indict her, believing that Jemison shot in self-defense. On April 12, the Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff grand jury indicted Jones, saying she “intentionally caused the death of … unborn baby Jones by initiating a fight knowing she was five months pregnant.” Last week, Jones was arrested and charged with manslaughter.
In an interview with WBHM, Attorney Mark White said the ruling was manipulated and unprecedented.
Miranda Fulmore, WBHM 90.3, July 1, 2019
Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt called on Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin today to change his strategies for fighting crime in Birmingham, even if it means calling in the National Guard.
Woodfin quickly shot down that idea, saying, “We will not be calling the National Guard,” and emphasized that most of the city’s homicides “are not random.”
“These are interactions between people who know each other,” he said.
Hoyt’s comments were sparked after a Monday night shooting in the city’s Belview Heights neighborhood left one man dead. The victim, 27-year-old Michael James Weeks, was the 60th reported homicide in Birmingham this year; seven of those homicides have since been ruled as justified.
That’s a marked increase from last year, which by June 18 had logged 50 homicides.
“I just need a new plan,” Hoyt said to Woodfin during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, arguing that residents are being “terrorized” by violent crime.
“My mother told me if you don’t know how to do something, ask somebody. Get some help … We did a couple of (crime) studies; it ain’t working. (We) brought a new chief in here; it ain’t working. So I’m just trying to figure it out … Maybe we need to call the National Guard in here to help us control this city.” Read more.
Luis, who asked us not to use his last name, had just gotten off work one Friday night late last year. He and his family were making dinner outside at their trailer park in Pinson.
“We were heating up the food, a few tacos, when two African-American men arrived with assault weapons,” Luis says. “They threw us to the ground. I have it all on video. My wife was pregnant. They threw her on the ground. No one could do anything.”
It was payday at work and Luis had about $1,200 in cash on him. The men robbed him and fled. Luis was one of several residents who recently shared their stories at a forum at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. The event was organized in response to a recent surge in robberies targeting the Hispanic community in Birmingham.
Police officials from Birmingham and Jefferson County were also in attendance. They say there is a pattern to these crimes, which are often armed robberies that take place on the weekend in trailer parks. They say criminals may target Hispanic residents because they are more likely to have cash on hand and they are less likely to call the police. A law enforcement officer at the meeting asked residents not to be afraid. Read more.
Violence is the newest strategic focus for the Jefferson County Department of Health. During Tuesday’s annual State of Health in Jefferson County address, Dr. Mark Wilson said the department added the issue in response to increasing rates of homicide.
“It (violence) isn’t something that our health department has devoted resources to in the past,” Wilson said, “but it is clearly a public health problem.” Read more.
With the help of a federal grant program, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office has begun to chip away at the county’s massive backlog of untested sexual assault kits.
About 175 of the county’s more than 3,800 untested kits have been tested as of this month, with officials prioritizing cases that may lead to the capture of serial offenders. They also are taking steps to make sure that such a backlog never happens again, even once the federal grant runs out.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office with a $1.5 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant. The grant would pay for an inventory to be taken of the county’s backlog, as well as to establish a database of the kits and to “develop a common language and protocol for addressing sexual assault countywide,” said Danny Carr, who was then serving as the county’s district attorney pro tem.
The inventory was finished in September 2017 and found that, out of a total of 4,999 kits in Jefferson County, 3,876 had not been submitted for testing — close to 78 percent. Now, law enforcement officials face the challenge of whittling down that backlog without neglecting new cases — and of changing the mindset that led to the backlog in the first place. Read more.