Shelton, WA (6-26-14) — Mason County prosecutor Mike Dorcy had yet to complete presenting his case for the murder of 54-year-old George Alan Harmon about 7 PM, August 13, 2013 at a house in the 1900 block of South 1st Street in Shelton, attempted murder of another person shot in the hands and arms, robbery, a felon in possession of a handgun when Michael Justiniano and his attorney, red headed S. McNamara Jardine (Pierce Co.) conceded guilt on all counts before the jury had an opportunity to view the gory color photos of the victim at the crime scene following overwhelming evidence against the defendant having already been heard. Sentencing is currently scheduled for July 1, @ 9:00 pm.
Mr. Justiniano, the jury learned after being released, had served 21 years in prison for an earlier homicide. One witness for the prosecution testified the defendant had admitted firing the murder weapon and shooting the victim. One juror wondered how the defense would surmount the overwhelming evidence against Mr. Justiniano. In the end, there would be no defense presented as Ms. Jardine and her client conceded defeat to all counts.
Although, under the circumstances of the arrest and Justiniano’s attempt to flee the scene of the crime, no bail had been granted, he appeared at trial unshackled in street clothes. (Mandated by case precedent to avoid prejudice against the defendant) Jurors were not aware of his history or events at the crime scene. Justiniano had a New York driver’s license at the time he was apprehended.
The defendant’s elderly mother as well as the victim’s mate (Ms. Rivera) were in the courtroom when the defense caved in. At least one juror found both attorneys and the judge behaved very professionally during the trial. It is anticipated the tragedy of a 2nd homicide by a man who had already proven his capacity for killing will not be repeated as Mr. Justiniano faces the possibility of spending his remaining life in prison. Amber Finlay was the trial judge and will likely also preside at sentencing.
This is Justiniano’s third strike under Washington’s Three Strike’s law, which requires a mandatory minimum life sentence. [Correction: As it turned out, because concurrent crimes are treated as only single strikes under Washington law, Mr. Justiniano was NOT eligible for the 3rd strike penalty, but was sentenced to a total of almost 800 months instead.]
The mood was somber as Justiniano was led into the courtroom in chains to await his sentencing after conceding guilt at his trial before the prosecution had completed its case. His (court appointed) attorney, Ms. Jardine, argued judge Amber Finlay should consider what the defense WOULD have presented had the defendant not cut short the trial by his admission of guilt as hypothetical circumstances. Jardine speculated at least one juror would have voted to acquit due to something less than reasonable doubt. In the end, she conceded we would never know as her client, over her reservations, openly admitted he was guilty as charged–to spare the victim’s mother further grief, his attorney said.
Ms. Jardine gets high marks for optimism. The jury felt the evidence against Justiniano was overwhelming–standard sentiments, Jardine said, when only the state’s case has been heard. Although Ms. Jardine has a practice in Tacoma, she was tapped to defend against the state’s case by the Mason County Court Administrator when it came to light all of the regular local attorneys on the public defender roster had a conflict of interest due to previous court involvements with either Justiniano or the victim or their family members. Jardine stated, after the sentencing hearing, she was beginning to make more appearances in Mason County due to the same circumstances arising in other cases.
The convicted killer’s (twice over) defense counsel appeared inadequately prepared to present mitigating circumstances on behalf of her client. Thus, prosecutor Mike Dorcy sought the maximum penalty for the crimes Justiniano had admitted and judge Amber Finlay granted the same to the tune of almost 800 months in prison (without factoring any ‘good’ time reduction), plus 3 years probation, restitution and court costs if Justiniano was ever released–which, she said, she did not anticipate given the length of the sentence.
The victim’s mother a gave passionate tearful statement of the impact the crime had on her and the victim’s family–she welcomed a sentence which would keep Justiniano off the street and from harming the public yet again. Disturbingly, Ms. Jardine, while conceding her client was no angel during a post-hearing hallway conversation, also called the victim’s character into question.
This tactic (slandering the defendant/victim) is disgustingly common among both prosecutors and defense attorneys. Ms. Jardine never got a chance to make that argument to the jury and it may well have backfired in any event. She alluded to an unseemly relationship between the victim and Justiniano that had a variety of criminal implications. She never attempted to explain how this could have justified premeditated murder.
“What’s the gun for?” asked 54-year-old George Alan Harmon shortly after Justiniano returned to the victim’s residence to shoot him to death. “Tell George that was what the gun was for,” remarked Justiniano to the victim’s stunned mate as he fled the scene.
Judge Finlay asked Justiniano if he had anything to say before she passed sentence. The defendant appeared to have listened attentively to the statements made by the victim’s family as well as Dorcy’s successful argument the maximum penalty allowed by law be imposed. Justiniano took about 20 seconds to utter two sentences. He was ‘sorry’, he said.
Amber Finlay then took the opportunity to admonish the defendant before she passed the maximum sentence permitted her under Washington law. “Nobody put that gun in your hand or forced you to come back hours later to shoot Mr. Harmon or his friend,” she observed. “Mr. Justiniano, you’re a scary person,” she castigated. “You were released just a couple of years ago for killing another individual, and here you are back in court for murdering Mr. Harmon and shooting his friend,” Finlay emphasized.
Mr. Justiniano appeared calm and unmoved before being led off in chains to serve his sentence. Though present during his trial, Justiniano’s mother wasn’t seen in the courtroom on this day.