Crime

Pierce County judge rules man who fatally beat Orting woman can’t take back guilty plea

Jonathan Daniel Harris, left, asked Wednesday to withdraw his guilty plea for second-degree murder in the death of Orting mother Nicole White.
Jonathan Daniel Harris, left, asked Wednesday to withdraw his guilty plea for second-degree murder in the death of Orting mother Nicole White. Staff file, 2015

A man who beat an Orting woman to death on their first date can’t withdraw his guilty plea, a Pierce County Superior Court judge said Wednesday.

Jonathan Harris, 30, argued that he’d felt intimidated by defense attorney Mark Quigley into pleading guilty to second-degree murder and two assault charges in the death of Nicole White.

Harris, who represented himself in court, said Quigley had threatened his life by telling Harris he’d spend the rest of his life in prison if he went to trial.

John Sheeran, the assistant criminal division chief of the prosecutor’s office, said Harris’ attorney had given straightforward legal advice.

Sheeran also brought up recent phone calls between Harris and his mother from the jail.

Harris told his mother he shouldn’t have pleaded guilty, and that he could have ended up with a lesser conviction of manslaughter had he gone to trial, Sheeran said.

He also said Harris told his mother that the only difference between his case and others that ended with a manslaughter conviction was that he used a blunt object.

“You told her that you hit Nicole and something triggered you,” Sheeran said.

Harris and White met up June 6, 2015, and investigators believe he beat the 28-year-old mother of two to death after the date then dumped her body near Lake Kapowsin.

When Sheeran asked Harris if he’d been mad the night of the killing, Harris said he remembered arguing with Nicole, but that he had not been mad.

“You beat the woman to death and you’re telling this court you were not mad at her?” Sheeran asked.

Harris told Sheeran he remembered only part of that night, and did not know what he did with White’s body.

He said he did not beat White to death, and that he didn’t know how she died. He also said he never received important court documents, such as the statement of probable cause that outlined the accusations against him.

“What you’ve really got here is buyer’s remorse,” Sheeran said.

Judge Susan Serko seemed to agree and said she didn’t find Harris credible.

She determined he hadn’t established he’d suffered a “manifest injustice,” which is what it would take for him to withdraw his plea.

And she noted she’d specifically asked him at the time of his plea if it was true he’d beaten White to death at his home, and that he said it was.

White’s family and friends, present in court, said they were glad the plea stuck. They wore shirts and hats with a #JusticeforNicole logo.

“He’s just a monster,” said Dana Jonhson, White’s cousin.

Harris is to be sentenced next month.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

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