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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Judge denies motion in murder case

  • A Leavenworth County District Court judge has rejected an ineffective counsel argument in the case of a man who's serving 30 years in prison for second-degree murder.
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  • A Leavenworth County District Court judge has rejected an ineffective counsel argument in the case of a man who's serving 30 years in prison for second-degree murder.
    The decision came Thursday at the conclusion of an evidentiary hearing in the case of Jason L. Jones.
    Jones, 37, pleaded guilty in 2010 to reckless second-degree murder and abuse of a child. The charges stemmed from the 2009 death of 4-year-old Gabriel Rivera.
    The boy reportedly died from blunt force trauma after he'd been left in the care of Jones. Jones was living in Leavenworth with the boy's mother at the time.
    A month after pleading guilty, Jones sought to withdraw the plea, arguing he had been pressured to enter into the plea agreement. His request was denied and he was sentenced to prison.
    Jones had been seeking release or a new trial with his argument that his former attorney, Carl Cornwell, provided ineffective assistance.
    Cornwell testified during Thursday's hearing.
    During his testimony, Cornwell was asked by Assistant County Attorney Cheryl Marquardt to read portions of a transcript from the May 14, 2010, hearing during which Jones entered his guilty plea. Cornwell was asked to read Jones' responses to questions from the judge.
    Jones had been asked if he was satisfied with the work of his attorney.
    "Yes, over-satisfied," was Jones' response. "He's a great lawyer."
    Jones also said he had not been threatened to enter the plea.
    Cornwell said Jones may have had a viable defense by arguing the victim fell down stairs. But, this was undermined by things such as letters that Jones reportedly tried to smuggle out of the Leavenworth County Jail to influence witness testimony.
    "That seriously undermined everything," Cornwell said.
    The defense attorney said the letters alone may have been enough to convict his client.
    Cornwell also said the defense had no real contradiction of the findings of the doctor who performed an autopsy of the victim. Cornwell said an independent pathologist he had contacted for the case also was of the opinion that the child had been beaten to death.
    "We couldn't call the expert that I had," he said.
    Jones' own son had been present when the victim suffered his fatal injuries. But, Cornwell said an attorney appointed to represent Jones' son indicated the boy's testimony would not be helpful to the defense.
    After learning this, Cornwell met with Jones in jail and advised him of his legal options, and Jones entered into the plea agreement, according to the testimony.
    Cornwell said his client was looking at the possibility of dying in prison if the case had gone to trial and he was convicted.
    Page 2 of 2 - Cornwell said he did not argue for a motion to withdraw the guilty plea during Jones' sentencing hearing in 2010.
    "I didn't think it was in his best interest," Cornwell said.
    Jones, who represented himself Thursday, called several friends and family members to testify. The witnesses said they were not contacted by Cornwell regarding what they may have been able to contribute to the defense.
    Cornwell testified he had contacted some of the people whose names had been provided by his client. But, the attorney said these witnesses "didn't have any direct knowledge of the day in question."
    Cornwell also said he attempted to speak with Jones' son but never spoke with him directly.
    A juvenile court judge had issued an order that prevented people from contacting the boy about the criminal case.
    Jones called his son to testify Thursday, but District Judge Gunnar Sundby did not allow the teen to testify.
    When denying Jones' motion arguing ineffective counsel, Sundby said Cornwell had been granted some restricted access to the boy in 2010.
    "He did what he could do to talk to that witness," Sundby said.
    Sundby noted that Jones argued Cornwell failed to interview other witnesses.
    "They were not critical witnesses," Sundby said.
    The judge said he also believes Jones' son would not have been a critical witness because jurors would have looked at the boy as someone who could have been easily influenced by circumstances.
    "You chose to enter guilty pleas in this case," Sundby said.
    Sundby said he did not believe Jones had established Cornwell's performance as a defense attorney was deficient. The judge also said Jones had not established deficiency on the part of appellate attorneys who worked on his appeal.
    Jones indicated he plans to appeal Sundby's decision.

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