Kenyan immigrant in Washington State murders 75 year old woman visiting nursing home

Three articles (sent by Gintas) tell the story. First, from the Seattle Times this week:

Guilty verdict in Federal Way nursing-home slaying

A King County Superior Court jury this morning found a former nursing assistant guilty of second-degree murder in the March 2008 slaying of a woman who was visiting her husband at a Federal Way nursing home.

Joseph Njonge, 25, was working at the Garden Terrace Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence in Federal Way when the body of Jane Britt, 75, was found in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of the nursing home. She had been strangled. Britt often visited the nursing home to see her 77-year-old husband, Frank, who lived there.

Njonge’s DNA matched evidence found underneath Britt’s fingernails. Britt’s pocket was found turned inside out and her husband’s Costco card was found in Njonge’s wallet, according to charging papers.

The jury had been deliberating since Monday.

Here’s a story from Seattle Times about the arrest of the suspect in April 2008 which details how how the victim’s body was discovered (for some reason it hit with me with an impact that brought tears to my eyes) and says that the suspect, Joseph Njonge, comes from “Kent.” Is there a Kent, Washington? Indeed, there is. It also has a photo of the suspect:

Joseph Njonge

Federal Way police: Suspect’s DNA found under fingernails of slain woman, 75

Bail was set at $1 million Saturday for a 24-year-old nursing assistant who is being held on suspicion of strangling a 75-year-old woman…

By Melissa Allison

Bail was set at $1 million Saturday for a 24-year-old nursing assistant who is being held on suspicion of strangling a 75-year-old woman after she left a Federal Way nursing home last month.

Joseph Njonge, of Kent, who has no criminal history, worked for nearly a year as a certified nursing assistant at Garden Terrace Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence, where Jane Britt’s body was found in the trunk of her car March 19. She was last seen alive the evening before, when she left the nursing home after visiting her 77-year-old husband, who lives there.

Njonge was arrested Thursday after the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory said that it had matched his DNA to that found under Britt’s fingernails, according to court documents released Saturday.

He was booked in King County Jail for investigation of first-degree murder and robbery.

In the documents, Federal Way police said that Njonge denied killing Britt or having any contact with her that could have resulted in his DNA being under her fingernails.

Njonge is scheduled to return to King County Superior Court by Tuesday, said Pro tem Judge Karli Jorgensen, who set bail.

About 20 members of the suspect’s friends and family appeared at the bail hearing. A woman who identified herself to the court as his sister declined to be interviewed.

Two relatives of the victim also were in court but wouldn’t comment, citing a statement they released Friday. That statement read, in part: “We were shocked by the sudden and senseless crime that took the life of our beloved mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother.”

According to court documents released Saturday, Federal Way police said the only DNA found under Britt’s nails belonged to her and Njonge. Investigators had collected DNA samples from several people who worked at the nursing home.

Police also said they found Britt’s husband’s Costco card in Njonge’s wallet.

When Britt’s body was found in her car trunk, she was fully clothed but her shoes were missing and her pockets were turned inside out, court documents said.

According to police, Britt’s family said she usually did not carry a purse but kept money and identification in her pockets.

Britt’s family began looking for her March 19 when she did not pick up her grandson that morning, police said.

Britt’s son discovered that a phone message he had left for her at 7:30 p.m. the evening before had never been played because the message light was still flashing, court documents said.

The family found her Mercedes-Benz parked at the nursing home, but they didn’t have a key. A Mercedes-Benz employee opened the trunk.

Investigators interviewed Njonge and other nursing-home employees March 28.

According to police, Njonge said he worked until 10:30 p.m. on the night Britt disappeared and last saw her at 5:20 p.m., when she left the area where her husband was. She was seen leaving the nursing home at 7 p.m.

Njonge said the only time he left the facility was at 10:15 p.m. to take out the trash.

State records show Njonge has been a certified nursing assistant since Jan. 23, 2005. No complaints against him are on file, according to the state Department of Health.

And here’s a story from the News Tribune about Joseph Njonge’s testimony at trial. This story reports that he is from Kenya:

Federal Way defendant takes stand
STEVE MAYNARD; The News Tribune
Published: 06/12/09

Nursing assistant Joseph N. Njonge calmly answered his lawyer’s questions Thursday, his hands folded on top of the witness stand—the hands prosecutors say he used to strangle the wife of his patient at a Federal Way nursing home.

“Did you kill Jane Britt?” defense attorney Philip Sayles asked.

“No,” replied Njonge, shaking his head.

“Did you stuff her body in the trunk of that car?” Sayles followed up.

“No,” responded Njonge, shaking his head again.

Njonge said he considered Britt his friend. The East African immigrant said he saw the 75-year-old Federal Way woman almost every day while she was at Garden Terrace nursing home visiting her husband, Frank Britt.

After Njonge professed his innocence, deputy prosecuting attorney Carla Carlstrom went to work challenging his credibility.

Njonge, 25, is charged with first-degree murder, accused of strangling Britt in the Garden Terrace parking lot and putting her body in the trunk of her Mercedes-Benz.

Britt’s body was found March 19, 2008. She was last seen at 7 p.m. the day before after visiting her husband.

Njonge was on the stand for about three hours Thursday in a packed King County Superior Court room, during which he admitted taking Frank Britt’s Costco card. He also said he took a Thomas Kinkade painting from another resident’s room and pawned a diamond ring he found in a shower room at the nursing home.

Carlstrom cited transcripts from police interviews in April 2008, during which police asked Njonge if he took anyone’s credit cards or knew about thefts at Garden Terrace. He didn’t mention the Costco card or the painting at the time.

Njonge countered he didn’t think police were asking about items he’d admitted taking.

He said he took Frank Britt’s Costco card when Britt moved rooms and Njonge repacked his belongings. Njonge said he took the card in July or August 2007 to check out prices for flat-screen televisions and forgot to return it.

Njonge said he took several framed paintings from the nursing home to his Kent apartment to duplicate styles of framing.

“I usually took them back,” he said.

Carlstrom also questioned Njonge regarding concerns Jane Britt voiced about Frank Britt’s shoes not being polished and his teeth not being cared for properly by nursing assistants. Njonge said he wasn’t upset by her comments.

Njonge also detailed the timeline of what he did at Garden Terrace on the day Jane Britt was killed.

He said he worked from 2:30 to 10:30 p.m. that day.

“We didn’t take a break from 5 o’clock till 9:15 p.m.,” said Njonge, adding that he last saw Jane Britt at 5:20 p.m. that day.

Njonge cared regularly for Frank Britt. He died May 21 of this year at Garden Terrace at age 78. Frank and Jane Britt were married for 56 years.

Prosecutors believe Britt scratched her assailant during the fierce struggle before she was strangled, resulting in a large sample of DNA under her fingernails.

The State Patrol crime lab matched a full DNA profile with Njonge.

During opening statements June 4, Carlstrom said the odds of the DNA belonging to someone other than Njonge were 1 in 19 quadrillion.

Njonge said Thursday that he didn’t know how his DNA got under Britt’s fingernails.

He testified, however, that she scratched his head with both of her hands on March 18, 2008, in the lighthearted way she had done before because his hair was short.

Njonge also said he helped Frank Britt use the toilet twice that day, with Jane Britt’s assistance. She grabbed Njonge’s arm to lift her husband, Njonge said.

Also Thursday, defense witness Howard Coleman testified he didn’t find “any substantive problems” with the DNA sample and testing. Coleman, chairman of Genelex Corp., a DNA testing lab in Seattle, examined the State Patrol crime lab’s report and said he agreed with its finding that Njonge’s DNA was under Jane Britt’s fingernails.

In response to a scenario posed by Sayles, Coleman said about the same amount of DNA as found belonging to Njonge under Britt’s nails could come from scratching a finger on a person’s face.

Njonge had worked with Garden Terrace for less than a year and was with the parent company, Life Care, a total of four years. Garden Terrace is an Alzheimer’s facility at 491 S. 338th St.

Njonge has received traffic citations but has no criminal history in this country. Originally from Kenya, Njonge came to the United States about five years ago.

If convicted, Njonge could be sentenced from 20 years to more than 26 years in prison.

He remains in jail at the Regional Justice Center in Kent on $1 million bail.

Prosecution rebuttal witnesses and closing arguments are scheduled for Monday at the Regional Justice Center. After that, the case will go to the jury.

Steve Maynard

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 19, 2009 08:03 PM | Send

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