A motion to dismiss attempted murder charges against a Tacoma woman who allegedly fired a gun at a Washington State Patrol trooper in the Napavine area in May 2020 was struck down in Lewis County Superior Court on Wednesday.
The defendant, Kelli R. Buggs-Jones, is scheduled to go to trial on June 7 on one count of first-degree attempted murder.
Defense attorney Jacob Clark filed the motion to dismiss the case on May 13, arguing that the state had failed to obtain enough blood at the time of the incident to complete a toxicology test.
Buggs-Jones is accused of shooting at a Washington State Patrol trooper who had stopped after observing Buggs-Jones walking along the shoulder of southbound Interstate 5 outside of the guardrail at around 8:45 p.m. on May 26, 2020, according to court documents. She allegedly fired at the officer, Justin Ausborn, of WSP’s Chehalis office, who then returned fire and struck Buggs-Jones once in the face. She was immediately transported via ambulance to Providence Centralia Hospital for medical care.
While treating Buggs-Jones’ injuries, Providence Centralia Hospital staff drew approximately 2.5 milliliters of blood, according to court documents.
On May 28 — two days after the incident that hospitalized Buggs-Jones — law enforcement contacted Providence Centralia to ask if they had drawn blood and to request that the hospital preserve the blood sample pending a search warrant. The warrant was secured that same day and the blood sample was sent to a private lab for a toxicology screening.
A few weeks later, on June 17, the lab informed law enforcement that at least 4 milliliters of blood were needed to start a toxicology screening, and testing was canceled due to an insufficient quantity of blood.
Clark argued that, in Buggs-Jones’ case, a blood sample sufficient for testing is “exculpatory evidence” — defined as physical evidence that clears the defendant from blame.
“Our defense is predicated on our ability to prove that my client was intoxicated at the time (of the incident),” said Clark at a dismissal hearing in Lewis County Superior Court, which coincidently happened to be held on the one-year anniversary of the incident.
By proving that Buggs-Jones acted out of character because she was voluntarily intoxicated, Clark would be able to argue that her actions were not premeditated — which Clark argued was a critical element of an attempted murder charge.
“We cannot back that (defense) up by saying ‘if you would have taken enough (blood), our lab would have been able to test it,’” Clark said.
He added that there’s insufficient witness testimony or observations to confirm that Buggs-Jones was intoxicated at the time she allegedly shot at Ausborn.
Clark argued that by failing to secure evidence that would have proved Bugg-Jones’ actions weren’t premeditated, the state violated her due process rights to a fair trial.
“What he’s complaining about is that the state did not violate Ms. Jones’ rights and draw her blood,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer in response to Clark’s motion to dismiss the charges. Meyer argued that law enforcement had no prior indication that Buggs-Jones was intoxicated at the time of the incident.
“The state is not just going to stab somebody and take their blood and send it to be tested,” Meyer said, adding that the state secured a search warrant for the blood draw at the hospital as soon as investigators learned that Buggs-Jones may have been under the influence at the time of the incident.
As for the toxicology results being “exculpatory evidence,” Meyer argued that for attempted murder cases, evidence that weighs in on the defendant’s mental state is an element that a jury may consider in making their verdict, but it’s not enough to absolve the defendant of guilt.
Meyer additionally argued that Clark had nearly a year to bring this issue to court or to find another lab that might be able to complete a toxicology test with less blood, but neglected to do so until just a couple weeks before the case was scheduled to go to trial.
“Even if this is a delay tactic, that’s not what this is about,” Clark said in response.
“This is about the state not taking the blood that was required.”
Ultimately, Judge Joely A. O’Rourke ruled against dismissing the case.
“For the court to dismiss this, there would have to be a due process violation and I don’t see that here,” she said, noting that the state secured the hospital’s blood sample as soon as they learned it would be relevant to the case.
O’Rourke added that, in this case, the blood sample cannot be defined as exculpatory evidence.
“There’s nothing that may have exonerated the defendant,” she said.
The case is scheduled for a trial confirmation hearing on June 3 to determine whether both parties are prepared for trial. If so, then a jury trial will begin on June 7.
Buggs-Jones was first booked into the Lewis County Jail on a $1 million bail upon her release from the hospital on June 12, 2020.
She was still in custody as of Thursday afternoon.