COURT HOUSE – Five members of a local family pleaded not guilty at their arraignments Thursday, Nov. 9, to witness tampering charges related to their alleged attempts to contact the complaining witness in a domestic violence case.
The five – John P. Linnington, of North Cape May, James J. Linnington, of Cape May, Christa N. Linnington, of Wildwood, Marianne N. Linnington, of Cape May, and Marie J. Britton, of Rio Grande – were given new dates to return to court by Judge J. Christopher Gibson.
In the domestic violence case, John P. Linnington was charged with attempted murder, unlawful use of a weapon, aggravated assault and other counts in April 2022 relating to an incident involving a pregnant woman.
According to the affidavit of probable cause in that case, John Linnington was picked up by the complaining witness – identified in court documents as G.S. – from a bar his uncle owns and that she worked at, and he began to attack her in the vehicle.
The altercation continued into a Cape May Point residence, the affidavit says, where Linnington punched G.S. with his fists, kicked and bit her in the stomach while knowing she was six months pregnant with his child, and strangled her to the point she feared for her life and may have gone unconscious.
Then, Linnington began to beat her with a metal curtain rod until she escaped out a window, the affidavit says.
Linnington pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder and other charges and is being held without bail pending trial. The state charges that while in the Cape May County Correctional Facility he conspired with family members to try to induce the woman to testify falsely.
Prosecutors charged Linnington, his mother, uncle, sister and grandmother with conspiracy to commit witness tampering and with witness tampering, both third-degree counts.
David A. Stefankiewicz, Linnington’s lawyer, told the Herald he is still waiting to receive the majority of the evidence related to the new charges, but doesn’t think his client is the focus of the new indictment.
“It seems clear that John did not tamper, nor did he conspire with anyone to tamper, as he’s been incarcerated during the entire time period. All of his calls have been recorded and closely monitored. Likewise, so has his mail,” the defense attorney wrote in an email to the Herald.
Stefankiewicz wouldn’t comment on the charges against the other family members or how they might affect the domestic violence case against his client.
“While I have a lot of strong thoughts about the prosecution of the family, I’d rather keep them to myself for now,” he wrote.
Linnington is due back in court in January for a status conference and potential discussion of pretrial motions.
State v. James J. Linnington
James J. Linnington, John Linnington’s uncle, is accused by two of his employees from the bar he owns – where G.S. also worked – of using them to try to influence her testimony in the case.
The employees, who are not named in court documents, came forward to prosecutors and turned over their phones, which revealed texts from James Linnington urging them to try to get the woman to recant or change her story.
The messages, which were read into the court record by an assistant prosecutor during a detention hearing earlier this year, detail efforts James Linnington made to have G.S. sign a letter he allegedly took part in drafting, minimizing the violence that allegedly occurred between his nephew and the woman.
“The letter needs to be very specific or else it’s a waste of time. What’s your email? I’ll send you a revised letter if you’re able to print,” James Linnington texted one of his employees, according to the court record.
“Tell her that if she calls me, I will give clarity to how we can have a positive outcome in this situation for everyone involved. Mother, baby and father! Additionally tell her the Linnington family stands ready to support her family and her child in any need she may have. That will come about after a positive outcome for JP [John Linnington’s nickname],” the text said, according to the court record.
James Linnington also allegedly used another employee to try to get G.S. to meet with an investigator for the defense team, which she ultimately did.
He also allegedly offered cash to the woman, to be delivered through his employees or his niece, John Linnington’s sister, Christa.
“If she needs money, I’ll get you some CASH today. If she needs it for anything, the baby, school, clothes, etc.,” James Linnington texted the employee, according to the court record.
At his arraignment, James Linnington’s lawyer, Joseph J. Rodgers, told the judge he plans to have his client apply for pretrial intervention, a program that results in a dismissal of criminal charges upon successful completion but that can usually be used only once in a person’s lifetime.
James Linnington has a 30-year-old pretrial intervention on his record, something that could be an impediment to his acceptance into the program for a second time.
“I think the 30-year-old diversion can be overcome,” Rodgers told the Herald.
During the arraignment, Assistant Prosecutor Bryna Batten said that James Linnington has a second-degree charge against him, which could be a further obstacle to getting into pretrial intervention. However, his defense lawyer said he only was indicted on two third-degree counts. A copy of the indictment reviewed by the Herald lists two third-degree charges. Asked for clarification, Batten said she was “not in a position to comment on this case as it is an ongoing investigation.”
“If he is charged with a second-degree crime that will make PTI [pretrial intervention] more of a challenge. However, I think the evidence will confirm that my client was trying to be a help, not a hindrance. His goal was to keep the family together,” Rodgers told the Herald.
James Linnington is currently free and on pretrial monitoring and is scheduled to return to court in February. His lawyer said in court he may also consider filing a motion to have his client tried separately from the co-defendants.
State v. Christa N. Linnington
In a separate hearing, Christa N. Linnington was arraigned on the same charges as her uncle, James Linnington, being accused of trying to dissuade G.S from testifying truthfully.
Her lawyer, John Tumelty, said in court that his client is applying for pretrial intervention. But Batten told the judge the state is not consenting and is offering probation, with the condition that Christa Linnington must testify truthfully with regard to her co-defendants as a plea bargain.
Tumelty did not respond to an inquiry from the Herald asking if that offer would be acceptable to Christa Linnington.
In court, Batten said the state has completed two phone dumps, and “the information contained in audio recordings, text messages and emails is definitely going to change the landscape of this case.”
The defense has not yet received the evidence obtained from the phone extractions. Batten told the judge the contents of the phones is the basis for the state’s objection to Christa Linnington’s pretrial intervention application, and “there are items on there to be reviewed that I think will have an effect on current charges and potential future charges.”
Christa Linnington is scheduled to return to court in January for a hearing on her pretrial intervention application.
State v. Marianne N. Linnington and Marie J. Britton
Marianne N. Linnington, John Linnington’s mother, and Marie J. Britton, his grandmother, were also indicted on two third-degree counts each, for witness tampering and conspiracy to commit witness tampering.
Marianne Linnington’s lawyer, Richard Sandman, told the judge at her arraignment that he too planned to have his client apply for pretrial intervention. Batten told the judge that would come with an expectation Marianne Linnington would cooperate against her co-defendants.
After court, Sandman said he would not comment on whether a cooperation agreement would be palatable to his client, “as it is still a pending matter,” but did add, “My client maintains her innocence.”
Marie J. Britton also plans to apply for pretrial intervention, according to her lawyer. She is represented by Michael Testa Sr., who did not respond to a reporter’s inquiry.
Marianne Linnington and Britton are scheduled to return to court in February.
Contact the author, Shay Roddy, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-886-8600, ext. 142.