Anchorage man sentenced to 59 years for 'snitch killing'

Jerzy Shedlock
Loren Holmes

Marquinn Jones-Nelson struggled to speak in Alaska Superior Court on Tuesday as he pleaded with the judge to give him a second chance at life. The 23-year-old was convicted in June 2013 of first- and second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and gun charges for the fatal shooting of Devante Jordan at a Mountain View apartment.

Judge Gregory Miller said the case presented difficult issues. He agreed Jones-Nelson grew up in an undesirable environment but said the defendant chose a lifestyle steeped in drugs and potential violence.

"I don't think you're a monster, but I think you're a menace to society," Miller said, referring to Jones-Nelson's court statements stating otherwise.

Prosecutors called Jordan's death, days after his 19th birthday in March 2011, a "snitch killing." Jones-Nelson's lawyers, attorneys from Denali Law Group representing him through an Office of Public Advocacy contract, argued the young man fired in self-defense because he thought Jordan was going to hurt him. However, a jury disagreed, convicting Jones-Nelson of a murder charge that carries a maximum sentence of 99 years.

Judge Miller sentenced Jones-Nelson to 59 years for all of the charges. The lesser murder charges were merged with the first-degree charge -- 75 years with 25 suspended --meaning at least 50 years behind bars. And an additional nine years were added for the tampering and gun charges stemming from evidence that he dropped the murder weapon, an old revolver, near a covered bridge on the Anchorage Hillside.

Victim labeled a snitch

In January 2010, police pulled over Jordan and Parrish Harris a few days after Anchorage police officer Jason Allen was shot. According to trial testimony, officers saw a gun thrown from the vehicle. As detectives began questioning Jordan in custody, he allegedly started asking for a deal and implicated others in another fatal shooting, that of Desirae Douglas, a 17-year-old killed in 2009 at a Muldoon party. An audio recording of Jordan's statements eventually made its way to Harris.

Word got out and Jordan was labeled a snitch, state prosecutor James Fayette argued during trial.

This set the stage for the murder. Jordan ended up at a Richmond Avenue apartment shortly after his release. Harris was there as well. Jordan came uninvited and Jones-Nelson had planned to smoke marijuana, drink and "just hang out and kick it," said defense attorney Jon-Marc Petersen.

Jones-Nelson confronted Jordan about snitching. The argument ended when Jordan left the room, but Jones-Nelson called him back, and the now-deceased 19-year-old returned with even more attitude.

Petersen argued Tuesday that Jordan frightened his client. Jordan allegedly pulled Jones-Nelson from a car in 2008 or 2009 and knocked him out. Jordan was known to carry firearms and to fire first; he was known to use his fists, and he never lost a fight, Petersen said.

Despite a three-week trial, it remains unclear who handed Jones-Nelson a "rusty, old snub-nosed" .38 caliber revolver. What is known is that Jones-Nelson fired at least six shots. The first round struck Jordan in the middle of the chest. The second round pierced Jordan's side, lung and aorta, Fayette said.

The defendant fired four more times, hitting Jordan in the buttocks as he tried to get away, the prosecutor said. Emergency responders tried to resuscitate Jordan but were unsuccessful.

Krystal Anderson spoke before the court on behalf of Jordan's mother, Rygina Bryant. Reciting the mother's words, she said, " 'you ran down my son like an animal in the street.' " But Rygina said they forgave Jones-Nelson.

Defendant's PTSD

The majority of the first half of the eight-hour sentencing on Tuesday centered on the testimony of Dr. April Ann Gerlock, a registered nurse who holds a doctorate in adult mental health and psychiatry. Gerlock testified she recently diagnosed Jones-Nelson with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She said she reviewed a "voluminous" 2,500-page report about Jones-Nelson's trial and interviewed him for hours. Several events in Jones-Nelson's life contributed to his PTSD, including threats of death, she said.

Jones-Nelson told the nurse practitioner about the time Jordan knocked him out. In 2008, he was jumped at a party, he allegedly told Gerlock. The most significant event occurred when a man Jones-Nelson felt comfortable enough with to call his uncle kidnapped him, she said.

After being assaulted and restrained with duct tape, the man drove Jones-Nelson to Thunderbird Falls, told him was going to die and started to dig a grave, she recalled. The man eventually stopped, allegedly telling Jones-Nelson not to mess up again.

"He truly thought he was dead," Gerlock said. Jones-Nelson, wearing red Anchorage Correctional Complex scrubs and black-frame glasses, gently rocked back and forth in his chair as the defense witness described a tumultuous past.

What mistake the defendant made before the ordeal was not addressed, but Jones-Nelson is a convicted drug dealer. In March 2012, he was sentenced in federal court to more than eight years for the sale and distribution of crack. Fayette said Tuesday Jones-Nelson had been selling "wholesale amounts of cocaine."

Gerlock said the young man grew up in a "dangerous culture," and he became hypersensitive to his environment, as do many people who suffer PTSD.

Fayette argued that Jones-Nelson callously boasted about the death of Jordan. An FBI informant recorded the defendant stating, "'(Jordan) came up to me and wanted to box, so I popped him right there,' " Fayette recalled. The defendant was also recorded on jailhouse phone calls by a wiretap.

In one of those calls, Jones-Nelson allegedly said his drug arrest would not change him. He said he would continue to sell drugs, according to Fayette.

"It shows us a mirror of his true self," the prosecutor said. Fayette used the word "mendacity" multiple times and referred to "taking life and laughing about it."

A disadvantaged background does not mitigate the fact that Jones-Nelson killed a man, Fayette argued. He chose the lifestyle, he said, and ultimately the judge agreed. They also disagreed with the PTSD diagnosis.

A murder 'waiting to happen'

Judge Miller said the murder of Jordan was "an event waiting to happen," adding he understood Jones-Nelson was dealt some tough cards in life, but he chose to hang around known gang members.

The 23-year-old sat leaning forward as Miller explained why he was imposing the chosen sentence. As Miller continued to disagree with the defense's arguments -- the PTSD, the inescapable environment, the threats of death -- Jones-Nelson leaned back, slouching in his chair.

Just prior to the judge's comments, Jones-Nelson apologized to his own and Jordan's family and friends, as well as the court for wasting its time. His statements left many in the courtroom wiping tears from their eyes. "God bless you, Marquinn," one attendee said.

"I live with the torment and the tortured memories of the day that resulted in the loss of one of God's greatest gifts -- life. I can toss around would-haves, should-haves and could-haves in a million different scenarios, but the fact is I acted out of raw fear and let that control my mind, body and soul," Jones-Nelson said.

"Please accept my apologies and condolences, I need your family to know that I mourn your tragic loss and seek forgiveness for my actions that night. I hope that time mends and heals your broken hearts. Please do not hold anyone responsible or accountable for my actions. They were mine alone."

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