The 28-year-old man who strangled his girlfriend then attempted to dispose of her body using a weak acid will spend 14 years in prison if a judge accepts the plea deal agreed to Monday.
Jason Hart pleaded guilty Monday morning to second-degree murder in the strangulation of Regan Jolley in June 2013. He briefly appeared before Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, handcuffed and ending each exchange with the judge “ma’am.”
Hart has been in custody since authorities discovered the body of Regan Jolley, 33, in the detached garage of a Nine Mile Falls home. The couple had been dating a few weeks, according to friends, and the relationship was fraught with tension. A woman who lived at the home with the couple said Hart yelled at Jolley for disrespecting fish during a group fishing trip a few weeks before the murder.
When Dean Settle, another man who lived with the couple, returned to the Nine Mile Falls home in the early morning hours June 4, Hart reportedly told him that Jolley had left town to attend a barter fair with friends. Hart also told him not to go into the garage, because “he wouldn’t like what was in there,” according to court documents.
Settle told police he found a woman’s body in a tub filled with “acid” in the garage, according to court records. He left the home with his wife and called police from a nearby fire station.
The SWAT team responded to the residence because multiple people, including Hart’s father and Jolley’s mother, were still inside. There were also reports of weapons in the home and that drugs were being manufactured on the property. After an hourslong standoff, Hart was taken into custody without incident.
Hart, a military veteran, said he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and told court-appointed psychologists he used marijuana, prescription painkillers and heroin. His trial was put on hold in October so that he could be evaluated by psychologists. Investigators found a DVD copy of the television series “Breaking Bad” in Hart’s residence. In that show, a body is disposed of by placing it in corrosive acid.
Court-appointed psychologists diagnosed Hart with substance dependency and an unspecified personality disorder, but ruled him competent to stand trial in February.
“Mr. Hart did present with some unusual behaviors that may be suggestive of mental illness, but despite that, he appeared capable of attending to information that was being asked of him and providing answers” in response to legal questions, wrote the psychologist at Eastern State Hospital who interviewed Hart in January.
Authorities said Hart had no criminal history prior to the strangulation, but had been involved in several domestic violence calls.
The plea deal offered to the court Monday would give Hart credit for the 15 months he has already served in Spokane County Jail awaiting trial. He would be ordered to pay funeral costs for Jolley and to serve three years’ probation. Moreno said she would not rule out ordering substance abuse treatment upon his release.
A sentencing hearing in the case is tentatively scheduled in late October. No members of the victim’s family were present in the courtroom Monday.