King County Jury Declares Second Mistrial in Trial of Brothers Accused of Deadly ‘Jungle’ Shootings
The King County jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict for the second time in the trial of two brothers accused of killing two people and wounding three others in a 2016 shooting spree in “the Jungle,” a Seattle homeless encampment that was shut down later that year.
The jury heard opening statements in the brothers’ second trial on Jan. 22 at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent and they deliberated for five days before a mistrial was announced Tuesday afternoon. The announcement was made by a spokesman for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. It is yet to be known if prosecutors will try James and Jerome Taafulisia a third time.
It should be reported that the Taafulisia brothers were tried for a second time on two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree assault in connection with the Jan. 26, 2016, shooting spree at “the Caves.” It is known as a former homeless encampment within the sprawling, 150-acre Jungle that was shut down by the city that October. The brothers, who were 16 and 17 at the time, were accused of storming the camp. They were accompanied by their 13-year-old brother, intending to rob a drug dealer.
The first mistrial was on Aug. 9 after a King County jury became hopelessly deadlocked following the Taafulisia brothers’ first trial. As per the jury forewoman, the original panel was split 8 to 4 in favor of conviction.
The older brothers, now 20 and 19, were charged as adults, their younger brother was prosecuted in juvenile court and convicted of the murder and assault charges in May, as per the court records. The youngest of them wasn’t armed, but he was a full participant in the robbery that quickly turned deadly, the documents showed.
He is now 16 years old and is scheduled to remain there until his 20th birthday. And after the release, he will spend six months on parole as he transitions back into the community, according to disposition records in his case.
As per court records, on the night of the incident, a group of masked men approached Phat Nguyen, the target of the robbery, while he was seated around a fire pit with several other people. The victim, Nguyen, 46, was shot in the chest with a .45-caliber handgun. The man sitting beside him, 33-year-old James Tran, was shot twice with the .45 and died on the way to Harborview Medical Center. Nguyen’s girlfriend, 47-year-old Tracy Bauer, and Amy Jo Shinault, 41, were shot in the back and they all survived.
One of the suspects took Nguyen’s bag and jacket. As they started running away, one of the shooters fired a .22-caliber handgun into a tent, hitting Jeanine Brooks, also known as Jeanine Zapata, in the chest. The 45-year-old lost life at the scene.
Police later matched casings from the scene to a .45-caliber handgun purchased from the brothers by a police informant and a .22-caliber handgun police later found in the brothers’ tent.
Key evidence was a secret video recording of the brothers allegedly admitting to the shootings to two relatives-turned-informants. But the attorney representing them criticized the Seattle police investigation and questioned one relative’s motives as he had his own legal interests in mind when he agreed to work with police, was paid $700 by the Seattle Police Department.