When news broke last week of 27-year-old Marsheae Jones’ indictment and arrest in the death of her unborn child when she was shot by 23-year-old Ebony Jemison while the two women were fighting in a Dollar General parking lot last December, the district attorney was out of town.
Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff District Attorney Lynniece Washington, whose office is handling the case, was on a cruise with her husband in the Dominican Republic. She returned Saturday night and in her first public statements on the case, Washington said her office would “respect” the decision of the Jefferson County Bessemer grand jury to indict Jones, but said, “As district attorney, I have the discretion and power to do what I please.”
In Washington’s absence, Chief Assistant District Attorney Valerie Hicks Powe issued a statement on the case last Thursday. In it she said, the office had “not yet made a determination about whether to prosecute it as a manslaughter case, reduce it to a lesser charge or not to prosecute it. We will take a thorough look at all the facts provided, the applicable laws, and reach a decision that we believe will lead to an outcome that is the most just for all the parties involved. We will announce our decision only after all due diligence has been performed.”
Washington spoke at the Boutwell Auditorium prior to a performance of “Justice on Trial,” a play written by performer and producer Chad Lawson Cooper in which the United States Department of Justice is “put on trial” by African Americans over reparations.
“Let me tell each and every one of you,” she told the audience. “This has been a tragedy. A child… a child, a helpless child is now dead. Was it avoidable? Absolutely. One hundred percent. However, that young lady has to live for the rest of her life thinking about her choices and decisions.”
Speaking to a predominantly African-American audience, Washington, the first black female district attorney in state history, spoke passionately about the firestorm the case ignited, particularly addressing criticisms (and worse) levied at her and what she characterized as “miscommunications” about the role her office played in the indictment.
“There was a barrage of insults–desecration of my integrity, my character, my name—all the while I was in the Dominican Republic,” she said. “All the while my name was being desecrated across this…this nation.
“However, this decision came by the grand jury; it did not come by this D.A.,” she continued “There was no special convening of a grand jury to address this matter. This matter went along with about three-hundred-ninety-nine other cases during a one-week span.
“And the people who served on that grand jury looked like every one of you who received jury duty summons and say. ‘I don’t want to go and serve.’
“They answered the call. And based upon information that the police officer, Pleasant Grove police officer, gave them—evidence presented on both of the young lady [who was] the shooter and the young lady carrying the child, the grand jury decided that the young lady who did the shooting acted in self-defense.
“I’m gonna respect the decision of the grand jury. But understand, as district attorney, I have the discretion and power to do what I please.
“Those of you who know who I am. Those of you who have followed me on Facebook. Those of you who know that I go every month, sometimes several days in a week, to talk to children about the choices that they make—y’all know to look at the character of a person before you pass judgment.
Washington said her office would later issue “a comprehensive statement [containing] every miscommunication that has been set out. And upon that then you will understand who you have as a district attorney in Jefferson County.
“For those of you who called my office, and disrupted, cursed, disrespected, because I was not present—I was not in the state, shame, shame on you,” she added. “But I took an oath to serve. I am a black woman in black skin. So, don’t tell me how I don’t appreciate the sensitivity of a woman and the rights of women.”