Prosecutor hires private attorneys in Auburn officer’s murder case

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has contracted with two former prosecutors to lead the case against former Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson, who is charged with murder for the 2019 shooting death of Jesse Sarey.

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said Dec. 12 his office has contracted with private Seattle attorneys Patty Eakes and Angelo Calfo.

Satterberg said his office is doing its best to contend with more than 250 pending murder prosecutions, and every one of his qualified senior deputies is handling more than 25 murder cases each, nearly twice their typical caseload.

Satterberg explained that in addition to a spate of new cases stemming from an uptick in new shootings and other violent crimes, his most experienced violent crime prosecutors have their hands full with the backlog of murder cases that had to be postponed when the courts shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nelson is the first police officer to be charged with murder in King County in nearly 40 years. Satterberg said that a case that represents the first application of the state’s new police deadly-force statute deserves the time and attention his staff cannot give it right now.

As for the private attorneys hired for the case, Eakes has also been contracted by the state Attorney General’s Office to prosecute three Tacoma police officers charged in the 2020 suffocation death of Manny Ellis. Eakes was co-counsel on the prosecution of Green River serial killer Gary L. Ridgway. Calfo had been a white-collar criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Satterberg said his office will use federal COVID relief money to offset some of the costs of hiring outside counsel. The contract with the county has initial budget of $500,000. Eakes and Calfo will bill the county at a rate of $525 an hour.

Satterberg said the Nelson prosecution is complex, with more than a dozen expert defense witnesses scheduled to testify, and will require the undivided attention of experienced lawyers.

“I don’t expect this to go to trial before next fall,” Satterberg said.

Satterberg said Eakes and Calfo have been deputized as special prosecuting attorneys and will work with two career senior deputy prosecutors who have worked on the Nelson case from the beginning.