Rontarus Washington Jr. will go to trial, for the second time, in 367 days.
Washington, now 25, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the November 2014 death of a woman who lived in the apartment down the hall from his. The case first went to trial in September 2019, the jury couldn’t come to a unanimous verdict, and a retrial has been pending since.
Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria expressed his frustration with the case’s slow progress, noting multiple times during a brief hearing Friday that this case was filed in 2015.
But no attorney on the case, including any of the three attorneys for the defense and one deputy district attorney for the prosecution, has been involved with it for more than a few months.
The hearing Friday was supposed to be a case management conference to set deadlines for discovery, motions and so forth, and to ultimately pick a new trial date — aiming for spring of 2022 at the latest.
But one of Washington’s three new attorneys, Melanie Morgan, of the Kansas City, Mo.-based Morgan Pilate LLC, explained that she and Deputy DA Joshua Seiden had discussed the issues and decided that in order to ensure that both sides had all of the evidence in the case and that everything had been disclosed, they had sent it all to a third party company.
They got back a terabyte of data to be reviewed, she said. That’s roughly equivalent to eight smartphones that hold 128 gigabytes of data, or four laptops that hold 256 GB.
In addition, Morgan has a three-month trial early next year that had been postponed because of COVID-19, but she told the judge that Washington wanted her to be part of his defense team, and as a result, it was going to take a little longer to get to trial.
“I hear your frustration and I don’t want to be the source of that frustration,” Morgan told the judge, but she said she was sure that everyone in the courtroom “wants to make sure that we’re doing this right.”
Seiden told the judge he could not in good faith object to the request to continue the tentative trial date that was set for September.
Washington’s next hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 27. That will be the case management conference McCabria was expecting to have Friday.
Morgan said that on that date, motions hearings can be set for December if needed; then any evidentiary issues could be taken up in early 2022.
The monthlong retrial is now set to begin July 18, 2022.
“We have just picked a trial date that is 34 months after the first trial,” McCabria pointed out. “… This case deserves priority at this point.”
Washington was in custody of the Douglas County Jail for more than five years until he was released July 1, 2020, on electronic monitoring with a $500,000 surety bond following a community fundraising effort.
More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case
• March 25, 2021: Defense counsel will stay on Rontarus Washington Jr. case, for now
— Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-422-6363.