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UPDATED: Nursing assistant guilty in Federal Way woman’s death

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on June 17, 2009 at 10:08 am with No Comments »
June 17, 2009 10:08 am

A jury has convicted a nursing assistant Joseph N. Njonge in the killing of 75-year-old Jane Britt.

The jurors found him not guilty of first-degree murder but guilty of second-degree murder. The verdict was read this morning after nearly two days of deliberation.

After the verdict was read, Njonge appeared shaken and sullen. His attorney put his right hand on Njonge’s shoulder to comfort him.

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

The jury had the option to consider convicting Njonge of second-degree murder if they could not agree that he was guilty of first-degree murder. A conviction of second-degree murder does not require premeditation. Njonge faces 10 to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced. A sentencing date was not scheduled today.

“It’s a bit satisfying that the jury agrees with the family,” said Howard Britt, one of Jane Britt’s children.

But he also said it was “a bit disappointing” that Njonge was convicted of second-degree murder. Nevertheless, Howard Britt expressed relief that the trial was over.

“I want my mother back,” he said.

Deputy prosecuting attorney Carla Carlstrom said she was happy Njonge was convicted.

Njonge’s attorney declined to comment afterward.

Four of Njonge’s supporters arrived after the verdict was read and broke into tears in the courtroom upon hearing the news from the defense attorney. They left the courtroom without commenting to reporters.

Jane Britt’s body was found March 19, 2008. The Federal Way woman is believed to have left the nursing home around 6 p.m. the previous day after visiting her husband, Frank.

Much of the six-day trial centered around DNA evidence.

Prosecutors said 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 profile with Njonge, who helped take care of Frank Britt and knew Jane Britt.

Njonge’s DNA was found under fingernails on both of her hands in an amount equal to Jane Britt’s, identifying her killer, Carlstrom said.

Njonge’s attorney, Philip Sayles, said the amount of Njonge’s DNA found under Britt’s nails was small, amounting to 3 percent of a tip of a pen.

During his testimony, Njonge denied killing Britt and putting her body in the trunk of her car.

Njonge has been in custody at the Regional Justice Center in lieu of $1 million bail.

During closing arguments Monday, Carlstrom said the exact reason Britt was murdered may never be known.

Whether Njonge attacked Britt because of complaints she made about Frank Britt’s care or because Njonge was worried about being discovered to have taken Frank Britt’s Costco card wasn’t clear, Carlstrom said.

Sayles sought to dispute circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution, pointing to a nursing home worker’s testimony that Njonge didn’t leave Garden Terrace from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on the night Jane Britt was murdered.

Carlstrom said Britt was slammed up against her car, and her neck was broken by ligature, leaving her paralyzed so she couldn’t fight any longer. Then, Britt was strangled her by ligature, Carlstrom said.

What was used to strangle Britt may never be known, Carlstrom said.

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

A memorial service for Frank Britt is scheduled for Friday.

In his testimony Thursday, Njonge said he wasn’t upset by concerns Jane Britt voiced about Frank Britt’s shoes not being polished and his teeth not being cared for properly by nursing assistants. Njonge admitted taking Frank Britt’s Costco card and a Thomas Kinkade painting and a diamond ring belonging to other residents.

Njonge also testified Thursday that Jane Britt 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.

Sandra Colvin, a head nurse at Garden Terrace, said Monday she never saw Britt touch Njonge’s head that day. Moreover, Colvin said she never saw Britt touch or hug any staff member.

Njonge 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.

(Filed by News Tribune reporter Steve Maynard)

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