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News / Northwest

Murder trial of suburban Seattle officer goes to jury

Homeless man was fatally shot in 2019

By MARTHA BELLISLE, Associated Press
Published: June 20, 2024, 5:24pm

A suburban Seattle officer who fatally shot a homeless man in 2019 ignored his training and should be convicted of murder, a prosecutor said Thursday during the trial’s closing arguments, while defense lawyers argued the officer was rightfully defending himself.

Auburn police Officer Jeffrey Nelson is charged with second-degree murder and assault in shooting Jesse Sarey, 26, while attempting to arrest him for disorderly conduct. His lawyer said Nelson shot Sarey the first time after he tried to grab the officer’s gun during a struggle and a second time as the officer mistakenly believed Sarey was holding his knife.

Nelson’s case is the second to go to trial since Washington voters in 2018 made it easier to charge police for on-duty killings. An officer can now be convicted if the level of force was unreasonable or unnecessary, while prosecutors were previously required to prove an officer acted with malice.

Prosecution and defense lawyers finished their closing arguments Thursday, and the jury was expected to begin deliberating today.

Sarey was the third man Nelson had killed on duty in the past eight years, but jurors did not hear about the prior two killings because it could have influenced their view of his actions regarding Sarey.

“Jesse Sarey died because this defendant chose to disregard his training at every step of the way,” King County Special Prosecutor Patty Eakes told the jury in her closing argument.

One of Nelson’s attorneys, Kristen Murray, told the jury that Nelson acted in self-defense. Sarey was resisting, tried to grab the officer’s gun and “kept fighting right up to that first shot,” she said.

“No one wanted this outcome,” Murray said.