A state appeals court panel has reversed a Downey woman's murder conviction for her infant daughter's death on New Year's Eve 2013.
The three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with the defense's contention that Ashley Debra Jones' waiver of her right to a jury trial was "not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary," and ordered the case to be sent back for a retrial.
Jones' case was heard in Norwalk by Superior Court Judge Raul A. Sahagun, who found her guilty in September 2016 of second-degree murder and child abuse for the Dec. 31, 2013, death of her nearly 4-month-old daughter, Savannah. The judge sentenced her less than two months later to 15 years to life in state prison.
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"There is no showing from this record that Jones understood the nature of the right to a jury trial she was relinquishing," the justices ruled. "The trial court did not inquire whether Jones understood the nature of her right to a jury trial, whether she discussed her decision with her attorney, or whether she had any questions...Because the trial court did not advise Jones as to the specific rights she would be giving up or inquire if her attorney explained those rights to her, her bare acknowledgment that she understood her right to a jury trial was inadequate."
The panel noted that the court's record does not show whether Jones understood that a jury is comprised of individuals from the community rather than a collection of judges, while finding that there was sufficient evidence to allow her to be retried.
Jones was tried along with the baby's father, Johnathan Lucero, who was convicted of child abuse and sentenced to 10 years in state prison. He did not appeal his conviction.
The infant weighed 7 pounds and 4 ounces when she was born and 9 pounds and 11 ounces at the time of her death from blunt force trauma and malnutrition. She had skull fractures, cerebral contusions, multiple rib fractures, a lacerated liver, bruised lungs and contusions to her diaphragm, according to court testimony.
Downey police Lt. Mark McDaniel said authorities responded to a report of a medical emergency call at an apartment in the 8400 block of East Imperial Highway and found the infant non-responsive. Their efforts at CPR were unsuccessful, and she was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Jones and Lucero were arrested the next morning.