Crystal Jackson promised to tell the truth.
Instead, she lied repeatedly about the night 18-year-old Jesus Isidor-Mendoza was raped, drowned and dismembered in Tacoma.
Those lies will prove costly to Jackson as she now faces more than 20 years in prison instead of the two or so she expected to receive for truthful testimony. A Pierce County judge has invalidated her plea deal with prosecutors, and she will be sentenced later this month for first-degree murder instead of second-degree manslaughter.
Her standard range on the murder charge is 20 years to 26 years, eight months.
“Taken together, the cumulative effect of Ms. Jackson’s lies would wholly undermine the state’s case,” according to a ruling signed Aug. 3 by Superior Court Judge Stanley Rumbaugh. “Ms. Jackson unquestionably breached her plea agreement.”
The 33-year-old Jackson has argued that she wasn’t competent to enter into the plea agreement, which involved testifying against two others accused of Mendoza’s death. She’s also argued that the attorney who advised her to accept the offer was ineffective.
Rumbaugh disagreed on both counts.
Jackson “was acutely aware of the plea agreement requirements and the tenfold sentence reduction,” the deal would have gotten her, the judge’s ruling said.
Mendoza was killed in October 2014, and his remains were found in a Tacoma ravine four months later.
Prosecutors contend the homicide had to do with stolen drug proceeds.
They initially charged Jackson, 51-year-old Wallace Jackson and 53-year-old Darrel Daves with murder for his death.
Under a deal reached with prosecutors, Crystal Jackson pleaded guilty to murder and second-degree manslaughter, but would only be sentenced for the lesser crime if she upheld her end of the bargain and testified against her co-defendants.
Daves took a five-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to witness tampering, and Wallace Jackson got three years, seven months after he pleaded guilty to rendering criminal assistance.
Prosecutors then asked Rumbaugh to find Crystal Jackson had violated the terms of her plea deal. That sparked a hearing that spanned multiple days over the past year.
Doctors testified during the hearing about Crystal Jackson’s cognitive deficits, and she was questioned about her varying accounts of the night of the murder.
Deputy prosecutor Jared Ausserer accused her of lying about details, such as whether she knew Mendoza and whether she had a photo of his body on her cellphone. She lied about whether she left her house the night of the attack, he said, and was misleading about whether she got cleaning supplies after the murder.
At one point during the hearing, as Ausserer questioned her about why she had been untruthful, Jackson said: “I didn’t want anything to do with the murder itself, period. And I was stuck in a position where I was already into it so deep I couldn’t get myself out of it.”
He wanted to know: “Wasn’t Mr. Mendoza murdered because you believed that he or he and your co-defendants stole $5,000 from you?”
She told Ausserer her co-defendants contended Mendoza was responsible for the theft and that they were the ones who took it out on him.
“I never told them to do that,” Crystal Jackson said. “They did it on their own.”
In his ruling, Rumbaugh said he believes Jackson has a mild intellectual disability, but he was not convinced that her cognitive limitations kept her from understanding her plea agreement.
“... the court is struck by the fact that Ms. Jackson was the key player in a very detailed drug distribution network,” the ruling said.
She allegedly got drugs through a contact in a California prison, distributed them in multiple states, tracked money that was owed and money that was paid and made the funds hard to trace.
Given that, it isn’t credible that Crystal Jackson misunderstood the requirements of her plea agreement, Rumbaugh said.
“The conditions of the plea agreement are far more straightforward — provide truthful answers to the questions put to you — than would be required to sell drugs in the manner described,” according to the judge’s ruling.