After two days of testimony, a jury deliberated about four hours before finding Duane Lee Washington guilty Thursday, June 13, in the Christmas Day murder of his 93-year-old grandfather almost 10 years ago.
Washington was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Washington was indicted July 19, 2012, in Jefferson County for the murder of Ernest Jackson, Washington’s 93-year-old step-grandfather, who family members say helped raise Washington during his troubled childhood.
Police had tried in vain since 2003 to solve the murder until numerous friends and acquaintances in 2012 said Washington at various times admitted to murdering Jackson.
Prosecutors began trying the case Tuesday, June 11, with no murder weapon and mostly circumstantial evidence linking Washington to the crime.
Perhaps the state’s most important witness, Corwin Johnson, admitted to police he was with Washington at the time of the murder, saying in a sworn statement in Harris County that Washington shot his grandfather three times in the head.
But when placed on the stand Tuesday, Johnson’s memory faded as he stood facing his former best friend. Johnson was asked to read the sworn statement he made to police in the presence of his attorney, but he refused to do so. After Judge John Stevens reminded Johnson he had been subpoenaed and threatened to stick Johnson with a charge of contempt of court if he did not answer questions, Johnson answered most questions with “I don’t remember,” or outright denied making the sworn statements to police while also refuting their contents.
In the sworn statement, Johnson said he had “struggled” for a long time with the knowledge Washington was the trigger-puller. His statement said he was coming forward “because it was the right thing to do.”
According to testimony from then Detective Jesus Tamayo, the lead investigator at the time who took Johnson’s sworn statement, Johnson knew intimate details about the murder and the scene of the crime, including Jackson’s clothes he was wearing when he died, the type of .38 caliber handgun used to shoot him in the head and another .45 handgun found at the scene — details Tamayo said had not been released to the public at that time.
Johnson told investigators in his statement Washington owned the .38 caliber pistol and threw it in a drainage ditch after killing his grandfather.
Other witnesses included jailhouse cell mates and others Washington met in jail.
Most were currently incarcerated for various crimes but said they were coming forward without receiving deals to decrease their prison time.
Larry Bias and Christopher Thomas were two witnesses who are currently incarcerated. Each told jurors they were appalled when they saw news accounts of an innocent 93-year-old man murdered on Christmas Day, which prompted their eventual testimony. Both said Washington told them he shot his grandfather for molesting his mother, who eventually became a prostitute and contracted HIV/AIDS.
“Do you ever feel bad about that?” Bias said he asked Washington. “And he said ‘No. He got what he deserved for molesting my mother.’ I was just blown away by that.”
Bias and Thomas both testified Washington told them he also planned to murder at least one witness who would eventually testify Tuesday, June 11, at the proceedings.
During closing arguments, Washington’s defense attempted to discredit the state’s witnesses, saying all but a few were convicted felons trying to get a shorter prison sentence. Washington’s attorney also highlighted the fact BPD had numerous suspects over the almost 10 years and were scrambling to solve the case.
The state simply pointed to Washington’s own defense, which failed to produce an alibi for Washington, who lived with his grandfather at the time. Prosecutors said jurors shouldn’t allow a man back on the streets who threatened to kill those who testified against him.
“He hasn’t fooled the Beaumont Police Department. He hasn’t fooled the grand jury,” the prosecutor said. “Don’t be the 12 jurors he fools.”
After deliberating for almost four hours Wednesday, June 12, a mostly white jury pronounced Washington, a black man, guilty Thursday morning, June 13.
During the sentencing phase, after a number of outbursts by Washington in Judge Stevens’ court, Washington’s defense put him on the stand during his sentencing hearing. Washington told jurors he was innocent and had never been convicted of a serious felony. Washington has charges and numerous convictions in Jefferson County for crimes varying from assault to resisting arrest, and admitted to jurors as much while on the stand. But he denied committing the murder, saying he loved his “paw paw.”
“We went fishing every day,” Washington said.
Prosecutor Bobby Ortego and police disagree and say justice has been done.
“For 10 years, he’s gotten away with this,” Ortego said.