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JBLM deserter was being sought for questioning in area homicide when arrested last week

Members of the 62nd Civil Engineer Squadron, pack up after installing the new Joint Base Lewis-McChord sign at the entrance of the base Sunday. (Abner Guzman/U.S. Air Force)

A deserter from Joint Base Lewis-McChord was being sought in connection with a recent homicide when he was arrested Friday in King County, a law enforcement official told The News Tribune.

Army law enforcement personnel and Tukwila police arrested Army Spc. Jonathan Kang Lee on Friday, Jan. 26, near Redmond. Lee had not been seen at JBLM since Jan. 14 as his trial on child-sex charges there approached. He was convicted of those charges in absentia on Jan. 19 and sentenced to 64 years in prison, the Army said.

Contacted by The News Tribune on Saturday, a spokesperson for the Redmond Police Department said that at the time of his Friday arrest Lee was being sought in connection with a Jan. 15 homicide in Tukwila. She declined to provide further details.

On Sunday, Tukwila Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Zachary Anderson would neither confirm nor deny if Lee is a suspect in the death of taxi driver Nicholas Hokema, whose body was discovered Jan. 15 in a Southcenter Mall parking lot. On Sunday, Hokema’s missing taxi was found in the Redmond Ridge neighborhood. Tukwila police impounded it, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.

The Redmond Ridge development is adjacent to the neighborhood where Lee was arrested Friday in the 9500 block of 226th Place Northeast, according to a search warrant.

“Specialist Lee was arrested by Army CID on charges unrelated to our investigation,” Anderson told The News Tribune on Sunday.

Lee has not been charged in Hokema’s death, according to state court records.

On Tuesday afternoon, Tukwila police released a statement on Hokema’s death which said in part, “A person of interest in this case is currently in custody with another agency on unrelated charges. We are working closely with the King County Prosecutor’s Office during this investigation.”

Why wasn’t Lee in custody?

I Corps spokesperson Lt. Col. Jennifer Bocanegra said she had no comment on Lee’s possible involvement with Hokema’s homicide when contacted by The News Tribune on Monday. She referred the newspaper to Tukwila police.

Asked why Lee was allowed freedom before his court martial in the child-sex case, she referred the newspaper to the Commanders Legal Handbook’s “Pretrial Restraint” section. It states that there is no bail system in the military. An arrest or a situation that is considered to be an arrest triggers the “speedy trial clock” for that suspect and, if a trial is not held soon enough, charges could be dismissed with prejudice.

It also states that pretrial confinement should only be used if the accused is a flight risk or might commit serious future misconduct.

“It is not enough that the accused is a pain in the neck or a hassle,” the manual states. “He must either be a flight risk OR have the potential to commit SERIOUS future misconduct, which could include SERIOUS threats to your unit’s discipline and readiness.”

Nicholas Hokema

On Jan. 15, the Tukwila Police Department announced on social media the discovery of Hokema’s body.

Jacob Stapp, Hokema’s colleague at Olympia-based RediCab, told The Olympian that Hokema had driven a taxi for the business since 2016.

Stapp said they learned about Hokema’s death from police about noon Jan. 15. He said Hokema was a “good-natured and kind-hearted guy,” and customers often said he had great taste in music.

“It might seem like small thing, but it made a difference with customers,” he said.

On Jan. 18, Tukwila police announced on Facebook that Hokema’s death was being investigated as a homicide. They also asked the public to help identify a taxi connected to the suspicious death. Also on Jan. 18, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office reported Hokema, 34, died of multiple sharp-force injuries and listed his death as a homicide.

That was followed by information that the vehicle was seen in unincorporated Redmond midday on Jan. 19, but the vehicle was moved before police arrived, according to the department’s Facebook page.

Hokema’s death has left his family and friends bereft.

“I haven’t always had the best luck with relationships,” Hokema’s girlfriend Nicole Sharkody told KIRO 7. “It took me years before I even thought about dating again. But I am so glad that I met him.”

A GoFundMe page has been launched to help Hokema’s family.

“The loss of Nick has been profoundly devastating for those who loved him,” the post reads. “Recently learning he was going to be an uncle, Nick had been enthusiastically researching how to establish a college fund for his niece before his untimely death.”

Court martial

Child sex-abuse charges against Lee were first filed in Pierce County in May 2022. In Pierce County charging documents, Lee was accused of child rape and molestation crimes that occurred in Steilacoom as early as 2020. The victims were known to him and were about 6 or 7 at the time.

Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett dismissed the charges in September 2022 when the military took over Lee’s prosecution.

“The military is better situated to handle this case, as some of the alleged abuse might have happened outside the State of Washington,” she wrote. Some of the abuse might have occurred in Georgia, according to charging papers.

Lee’s court martial began on Jan. 16, two days after he was last seen at JBLM. On Jan. 19, he was convicted by a military panel composed of officers and enlisted members, according to the Army.

In addition to his confinement sentence, the military judge reduced Lee’s military grade to E-1 — the lowest rank. The judge also ordered Lee to forfeit all pay and allowances. When his sentence is completed, Lee will be released from the Army with a dishonorable discharge.

The court martial did not include any charges related to Hokema’s death or Lee’s desertion.

Lee’s attorney did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday.


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