A Lawrence man was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Friday for an incident where he confronted police with an assault rifle after ramming into a woman’s car and threatening to harm her, but that sentence was suspended to probation despite the woman’s objections.
The man, Jesse Lamont McDonald, 33, pleaded no contest in Douglas County District Court in January to felony counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a Norinco SKS 7.62x39mm caliber rifle and criminal damage to a vehicle, and misdemeanor counts of violation of a protection order and carrying a weapon for having brass knuckles in his possession, as the Journal-World previously reported. Charges for stalking and fleeing from police were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
The charges stem from an incident on Nov. 10, 2022, at Astro’s Billiards and Bar, 601 Kasold Drive.
A police affidavit in support of McDonald’s arrest said that on that day, McDonald damaged a car belonging to a woman he had been in a relationship with, threatened to burn her house down and said that he was armed with “762s,” which the woman believed to mean that he was armed with an “AK style” rifle. When police confronted McDonald at the bar, the affidavit said, McDonald pulled an SKS rifle from his car and an officer believed McDonald cocked the gun and pointed at him. The affidavit said McDonald then jumped back in the car and fled before stopping at a gas station, where he was arrested.
The sentencing hearing for McDonald was split into two parts to allow Judge Amy Hanley to consider a motion for probation. The first half of the hearing was on March 9, and the woman who was at the center of McDonald’s threats and attacks spoke at both hearings.
“Do I forgive you? No. Will I ever forgive you? No. When you threatened me with the 762s, what if I had been there? What if you had shot me? Would you have cared?” the woman said aggressively during the first half of the sentencing hearing, leering at McDonald.
She said that she already had a protection order on McDonald when the incident occurred and it did not deter him. She said she and McDonald had been in a relationship for nearly a decade and that she had been abused throughout that relationship, and only recently had those instances of abuse been put on record.
Court records indicate McDonald was also charged with three misdemeanor counts of violating a protection order against the woman earlier in the year.
The woman said she would have to change jobs if McDonald were granted probation and that she would constantly be worried that he would contact her. She added that she was not consulted when the state negotiated the plea agreement and that she would not have supported probation.
On Friday, at the second part of the hearing, the woman spoke again. This time, she appeared much calmer and said she still did not support probation and that McDonald had continued to contact her and sent her a letter from jail.
The woman struggled to find the words and, after a few long pauses, said that she would not “bad mouth” McDonald, but that she does not think anything is going to change if he is granted probation.
“What will you do to make him leave me alone?” she asked the court. “Do I want him in prison for however long? No. Is that what it’s going to take for him to learn? Probably.”
McDonald’s parents said that if he were granted probation, he would live with them in Kansas City, Kansas.
McDonald’s attorney, Adam Zentner, asked the court on Friday to grant McDonald probation based on McDonald’s potential for rehabilitation, as outlined by an evaluation from social service provider DCCCA. He said that McDonald had been going to regular therapy sessions and that McDonald would have a better chance at rehabilitation through counseling than he would in prison.
Zentner asked the court to follow the plea agreement, in which the state supported probation.
Prosecutor Madeline Bjorklun, an assistant Douglas County district attorney, said that the records about the plea negotiations were not clear as to why the state would support probation in the matter. She said the prosecutor who negotiated the plea agreement was no longer with the district attorney’s office but that the office would stand behind the agreement, and she asked the court to honor it.
Hanley asked Bjorklun how law enforcement felt about probation, since the primary charge in the case was an assault on an officer. Bjorklun said that information was not in the record either.
Hanley sentenced McDonald to 24 months for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and six months for criminal damage, both felonies, and ordered those sentences to run consecutively. She sentenced McDonald to 12 months in jail for misdemeanor violation of a protection order and possession of a weapon, which would run concurrently with the felony sentences for a total of 30 months. Hanley then suspended that sentence to 24 months of probation.
“This does not reflect on the seriousness of the event,” Hanley said.
The court must rely on the prosecutor’s and defense attorney’s knowledge and views when a plea agreement is negotiated, Hanley said. Without more direct knowledge of the facts in the case, she said she had to trust that the state had performed its due diligence. Hanley also cited a letter she received from a counselor at DCCCA that said McDonald was a good candidate for rehabilitation.
Hanley stressed that McDonald’s compliance with his probation was paramount and that if he appeared before her again in court he would be going to prison. She said that this would be his only opportunity to remain free in this matter, and that he must continue with any and all recommended treatment programs.
“This is your last opportunity. You will have no contact whatsoever with the victim,” Hanley said.
McDonald had been in custody on a $100,000 cash or surety bond since his arrest and was released to probation after his sentencing.