Jury finds Yelm man not guilty of attempted murder

A jury has acquitted a Yelm man of charges that he attempted to kill his wife last year.

Jermaine F. McKenney, 32, was an active-duty soldier at Joint Base Lewis-McChord when he was arrested in September 2018, The Olympian reported. His public defender at the time said McKenney had served in the Army for 13 years.

The case went to jury trial Sept. 9, nearly a year after McKenney was arrested.

According to a prosecutor’s statement of probable cause for the charges of attempted first-degree murder/domestic violence:

Officers responded to reports of shots fired at a home on the 16000 block of Prairie Heights Street Southeast in Yelm on Sept. 22, 2018. Officers reported they found McKenney with a gun in his hand and his hands in the air.

He had fired two rounds, one away from him and his wife, and one near his wife, after threatening to end his own life, according to the statement. McKenney reportedly told officers he had seen a text message on his wife’s phone that stated she was going to file for divorce. His wife told officers he pointed the gun at her head and that she feared he would shoot her.

Evaluations presented by both the prosecution and the defense to determine whether McKenney had “diminished capacity” — whether he was capable of reaching the mental state needed to commit the alleged crime, according to a definition from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute — determined he was dealing with trauma-related issues, but they differed in their conclusions.

According to the state’s psychological evaluation, McKenney detailed that he had been deployed three times: Once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. During one of the deployments, he described being under indirect fire every day. During another, he described half of the building he was in being destroyed. At one point in the evaluation, McKenney described falling out of his bunk because of an explosion and hitting his face on the ground, which he said knocked out his teeth.

According to the evaluation, McKenney first experienced suicidal ideation during his first deployment and had been verbalizing thoughts of suicide for several days before the incident last September.

The evaluation presented by the defense diagnosed McKenney with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and determined he wasn’t capable of reaching the mental state of intent needed to commit the alleged crime. That evaluation was completed by Dr. Elizabeth Bain, who both the prosecutor and defense attorney on the case said used to perform evaluations for Western State Hospital.

The evaluation presented by the prosecution, completed at Western State Hospital, diagnosed McKenney with an Unspecified Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder, rather than going so far as a PTSD diagnosis, as well as borderline personality traits. That evaluator determined he did have the capacity to form intent and knowledge at the time of the alleged crime.

The crux of the prosecution’s argument, according to Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Lord, was that he was able to form the intent, he premeditated, and he fired the weapon.

“We had it in his own recorded statement that he had pointed his firearm at his wife and fired the weapon,” Lord said. She explained later that proving that it was intentionally premeditated and that there was an intent to kill is “a difficult burden to meet.”

A jury determined Sept. 18 that McKenney was not guilty, and public defender Eric Pilon confirmed McKenney was released from jail that day.

“I think he was just in a bad part of his life, and with his mental health issues it was an impossible situation for him to deal with,” Pilon said, citing McKenney’s lack of a criminal record and past military service. “A good guy, just in a really bad place. ... I hope that’s what the jury saw.”

Both attorneys confirmed McKenney is not under any court obligations as a result of the case — he won’t be required to seek treatment, for instance. Pilon confirmed McKenney was discharged from the military while he was in custody.

“I can’t speak for the jury, but being a juror is an incredibly difficult job,” prosecutor Lord said. “It’s one jurors take very, very seriously. Regardless of the outcome, I respect fully they work very hard to come to the conclusions that they come to.”

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019. She primarily covers Thurston County government and its courts, as well as breaking news. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.