A Thurston County jury acquitted a 26-year-old Olympia man of murder charges Monday after a five-day trial.
Antonio Princeton Lee Hooks was accused of killing Patrick O'Neil, a 47-year-old man who police found dead under the Fifth Avenue Bridge on Oct. 5, 2021. Hooks was arrested and booked into the Thurston County jail two days later and he has remained there ever since.
The jury acquitted Hooks of three counts, including second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree assault, according to court records. However, the jury found him guilty of second-degree assault.
During the trial, Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim tried to convince the jury that Hooks contributed to O'Neil's death by assaulting him. Meanwhile, Public Defense Attorney Ruth Rivas argued O'Neil died of an overdose and the state did not have sufficient evidence to prove Hooks was liable for his death.
"You have to be really certain before you convict someone of a crime," Rivas said. "I asked the jury not to do that. Ultimately, they agreed with my analysis of the case. It was a good outcome. It was the right outcome. I think it was the just outcome."
When reached for comment, Tunheim said he appreciated the jury's thoughtful deliberation and he respected their decision regarding the homicide charge.
"Our office remains committed to upholding the principles of justice while representing the voices of victims and advocating for vulnerable populations in our community," Tunheim said.
Following the verdict, Judge Mary Sue Wilson ordered Hooks be released. However, as of Thursday, he remained in custody in the county jail on suspicion of driving under the influence in Spokane County before his arrest. That matter must be resolved first, but Rivas said she expects him to be released soon.
Rivas said she hopes the public won't be quick to judge Hooks or other people like him. Though he was charged with murder, she said charges are just accusations that may be incorrect or inaccurate.
"There's a lot more complexity to it than I think sometimes the public or certain public officials or sometimes even the media are able to go into and explain," Rivas said. "I think people just have to be really careful about judging before there's a conviction."
Court records detail the investigation into the incident from the perspective of law enforcement.
Hooks reportedly went to the bridge with two others to get high. The people who accompanied him later told police that O'Neil, who was at the bridge, appeared to masturbate while lying in a sleeping bag and looking at them.
Hooks told O'Neil to stop. When O'Neil did not stop, Hooks struck O'Neil multiple times, rendering him unconscious, according to the records. The three of them saw O'Neil start to bleed and foam at the mouth, and they worried he may be suffering a seizure, according to court records.
The trio tried to wake O'Neil, but he didn't respond. They eventually turned O'Neil on his side and left the area while he was still breathing and alive, according to court records. O'Neil later died at the scene.
Hooks reportedly told this story to law enforcement after returning to the scene, and he was later arrested.
An investigation and autopsy report revealed O'Neil began convulsing during his encounter with Hooks and died shortly after from "acute methamphetamine intoxication aggravated by blunt force trauma," according to court records.
Rivas said she was skeptical of that cause of death because she had never heard of it before. So, she decided to get a second opinion.
"I wasn't sure, medically, how you could make a drug overdose worse," Rivas said. "So, I vetted it through another forensic pathologist who agreed with me and said, 'No, there's not enough here to rule this a homicide. I would have ruled as an accidental death via overdose.'"
O'Neil reportedly suffered a fractured nose, broken jaw and his airway was full of blood, according to court records.
Rivas said Hooks was willing to plead guilty to second-degree assault, but he contested the other charges. He's scheduled to be sentenced on the assault conviction on Oct. 10.
Hooks can expect a sentence of up to nine months in prison, but Rivas said that sentence will essentially be negated by the time he's served in the county jail.
"It's really unfortunate in cases like this, he can't get that time back," Rivas said. "Two years is whole lot longer than nine months."
Rivas said Hooks was held without bail despite efforts to convince the court he would not pose a danger to the community. She said Hooks is a good example of what's lost when courts don't set reasonable bail.
"He could have been fighting this case from outside of jail where he would have a place to live, have a job, have some stability in the community," Rivas said. "Instead he's getting out after two years with none of those things."
Rivas said Hooks has grown over the past two years, but being incarcerated has taken a toll on his mental health and rendered him financially destitute.
"I know he's had some struggles with some things while he's been incarcerated," Rivas said. "Just mentally, it's hard to be away from people. But he was in good spirits after the verdict and I'm hopeful that he'll be able to get his life back on track."