An attorney who has signed on to a long-pending Douglas County murder case said on a podcast released Wednesday that he had to apologize to his wife for taking another case in Kansas: “There’s no way I’m letting this go.”
Joshua Dubin, of Dubin Research & Consulting and ambassador to the Innocence Project, appeared on the latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience. He expressed some hope that he might be able to convince District Attorney Suzanne Valdez that the case against Rontarus Washington Jr. is not a “sound prosecution.”
Washington, 24, is charged in connection with the death of the woman who lived down the hall from him in November 2014.
Dubin spoke on the podcast about how Kenisha Clark, Washington’s mother, caught up with him outside a hearing for Albert Wilson in November 2020. Wilson was convicted of rape but, as the Times has reported, a judge ruled in March that he should have a new trial.
Clark gave Dubin a newspaper article about Washington’s case and asked him to please look over it. Dubin repeated what Clark said to him that day: “Please don’t turn your back on this community.”
On his flight back to New York, Dubin said, he kept muttering out loud because he couldn’t believe what he was reading in the article — and how many similarities there were between Washington’s case and that of a recent exoneree, Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin.
Aguirre-Jarquin spent years in prison and was facing the death penalty for stabbing two women to death in Florida. He was a neighbor who walked in and found their bodies, and he didn’t call police because he was undocumented. The troubled daughter/granddaughter of the victims was actually responsible for the crime.
In Washington’s case, he saw the door down the hall open, so “he knocks on the door to see if everything’s OK. He walks in, gets a little bit of blood on his sandal, and they accuse him of the murder. And it’s so obvious” that an alternative suspect was the killer, Dubin said.
Washington had also told police during an interview that he didn’t report what he had seen in his neighbor’s apartment because he was afraid he’d be blamed for the crime.
Dubin said of DA Valdez, who took office in January, “At least she is giving me a forum and saying, ‘I will let you come in and present to me why we shouldn’t go forward with this prosecution.’”
Dubin said he thinks at this point that Valdez is firm in her belief that Washington is guilty. But he said she ran on a platform that both Washington’s and Albert Wilson’s cases were “problematic” prosecutions, and that she wanted to take a close look at both once she got into office.
“I think if we get before her and we’re able to convince her that this is not a sound prosecution, I’m confident that — she ran on this platform, so let’s see if she’ll live up to it,” Dubin said. “So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
Dubin is now representing Washington along with the executive director of the Midwest Innocence Project, Tricia Rojo Bushnell, and Melanie Morgan, of the Kansas City firm Morgan Pilate LLC.
“When I feel I can make an impact on righting a wrong, I can’t turn away, I can’t look away,” Dubin said.
Washington’s case didn’t advance much during a brief status hearing on Friday. The next hearing, set for 2 p.m. Friday, July 16, will be a case management conference to set deadlines for discovery, expert reports, motions and such before the retrial. That likely will not come sooner than late spring or early summer 2022.
Washington spent more than five years in custody, mostly awaiting his first trial, from January 2015 through July 1, 2020. He had a four-week-long trial in September 2019 after which the jury hung. He was released on a $500,000 surety bond after a community fundraising effort, and the judge has since modified his bond to own-recognizance.
Wilson’s case is set for a hearing at 3 p.m. July 7. Dubin and Valdez previously said they thought the case could be settled without retrying Wilson.
— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-422-6363.
More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case
• March 25, 2021: Defense counsel will stay on Rontarus Washington Jr. case, for now