ST. JOHNS — Jason Anthony Compton, 38, of Apache County was charged with nine felony counts, including the attempted murder of his girlfriend during an alleged incident on June 13, in the Show Low Pines area of the county.
On Monday, Compton pleaded guilty to that charge, a Class 2 Felony, and to aggravated assault, a Class 3 Felony, for causing the woman’s lung to collapse. Compton will serve five years in prison, will be on probation for seven years, and the other seven charges will be dismissed if the court goes along with the plea agreement.
The decision to plead guilty seemed to surprise his lawyer and the prosecutor. The court had set a “Donald hearing,” named after an appellate court case. The purpose of the hearing is to advise a defendant of the range of sentence he or she could receive if a jury found the defendant guilty on some or all of the charges.
It was sounding pretty grim for Compton as Presiding Judge Michael Latham sized up the consequences for him during the April 12 hearing. For the second degree murder charge alone, Compton was looking at a maximum sentence of 21 years. The judge revealed that the sentences on the other eight charges (from five to fifteen years on just one of them) could be stacked on top of each other, meaning that the defendant would serve each term of years consecutively, starting to serve one term only after he had served the sentence on another.
On the other hand, Deputy Apache County Attorney Joseph Young told the court that his office is offering five years on one charge and seven years of probation on the second. Typically, that offer would go away and never come back if Compton didn’t take it before the end of the hearing. Both Young and Compton’s court appointed attorney R. John Lee of St. Johns seemed startled when Compton blurted out that he’d take the offer.
Compton up to now had put on a spirited defense.
On August 10 of last year, Compton contested the state’s evidence at a lengthy preliminary hearing, urging that there was not even probable cause to support the charges. The challenge failed but Compton, it seemed at the time, was ready to take the whole matter to a jury trial. Court rulings say that the Donald hearing must come first.
The case opened on June 13, 2020, with a 4 a.m. 911 email from the a the victim whom the Independent will not name at this point, who had gone to a residence of neighbors to report that she had been tied up and assaulted. Responding deputy sheriffs found a “terrified” barefoot woman whose clothes were dirty and she had visible face injuries including a left eye that was swollen shut. She also had flaps of duct tape attached to her ankles, wrists and around her neck.
According to testimony at the August hearing by Sgt. Dale M. Sloan of the Apache County Sheriff’s Office, the victim said that Compton was very angry at her because he believed she had cheated on him, and around 9 p.m. the previous night, had bound her with duct tape including a piece over her mouth, and threatened to kill her with a gun, which she said that she had not seen and which investigators did not find. But before he would kill her, she told the police, Compton gave the victim a chance to kill him first with a piece of orange-painted steel re-bar, which investigators found near the scene.
The scene is described as a “shed,” up on piers with a make-shift cot or bed inside where the couple had allegedly been sleeping. Deputies noted a roll of duct tape on the floor. After the alleged assault, the victim walked to the neighbor’s residence for help, Sloan testified. While there, the deputies received from dispatch another 911 call, this time from Compton’s mother who reported that her son, Jason, had been assaulted by his girlfriend. Sloan and a deputy then responded to the mother’s home, which she shares with her husband, and found Compton there. He also had visible injuries — scratches to his head and face.
Compton told deputies a different version of events. The woman is his girlfriend and they both like rough sex including being tied up with duct tape, which they allegedly do “all the time,” he said.
The victim is a drug user, he said, has mental health problems to the extent that the victim’s mother had been trying to get the victim treatment. Investigators later spoke with the victim’s mother who confirmed that she had been trying to get her daughter professional help. Compton also told deputies that they both had been drinking, Fireball to be exact, which is a cinnamon flavored liquor, and the duct tape was intentionally left loosened, thus the strand around the woman’s neck — it was loosely placed over her mouth, he said, in case she needed to pull it off her face, which she apparently did.
Compton said that after sex, they both went to sleep, and left the door of the shed opened. He claims that he was awakened by someone beating on him but he couldn’t see who it was because he had a blanket over him. He fought back, punching hard and pushing the alleged assailant out the open door and realized then that it was his girlfriend.
She was treated at Summit Healthcare. Her injuries were photographed and medical personnel told deputies that she also had a collapse lung. In fact, the lung trauma led to one of the many aggravated assault charges against Compton and the one that Compton pleaded guilty to on Monday.
Prosecutor Young told the court that the victim will appear at sentencing and that he expects the proceeding to be “quite emotional.” He asked the court to set it on a day when regular court business isn’t heavily scheduled. As of press time, a sentencing date has not yet been set.