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Judge Excoriates Defendant in Witness Tampering Case

James Linnington
File Photo/Herald Screenshot from Court Livestream

James Linnington, bottom right, appeared for a detention hearing from the Cape May County jail May 1, but the matter was postponed to May 3 after prosecutors said they had additional witnesses come forward with new information that would result in more charges. A judge released James Linnington after a live hearing in Cape May County Superior Court May 3, pending trial in the witness tampering case, but not before offering harsh criticism of the defendant’s alleged actions from the bench.

By Shay Roddy

COURT HOUSE – At a hearing in Cape May County Superior Court May 3, Judge J. Christopher Gibson issued a stern rebuke of a defendant’s alleged scheme to tamper with the complaining witness in a serious domestic violence case against the defendant’s nephew. 

Gibson ordered James J. Linnington released from jail on level-three monitoring pending trial, but the judge said he wavered on keeping him behind bars and felt James Linnington’s case came as close to meeting the detention burden as any nonviolent witness tampering case he’d seen. 

Prosecutors accused James Linnington of attempting to influence the victim of an alleged attempted murder stemming from a domestic altercation she allegedly had with his nephew, John P. Linnington, by offering cash and other financial support and using his employees to try to get her to sympathize with his nephew and recant her account of the alleged attacks. 

Two employees of James Linnington at the business he owns, the Red Brick Ale House, came forward after his arrest April 25, prosecutors said. The employees, identified in court only as J.C. and S.S., told law enforcement that James Linnington used them to try to get to the victim and influence her testimony in his nephew’s case.  

The victim was also a former employee of the Red Brick. 

After the victim, identified as G.S., picked John Linnington up from the Red Brick in April 2022, he began to attack her in the vehicle, according to the affidavit of probable cause in the underlying case. 

The altercation allegedly continued into a Cape May Point residence, where John Linnington allegedly punched G.S. with his fists, kicked and bit her in the stomach while knowing she was six months pregnant, and strangled her to the point she feared for her life and may have gone unconscious.  

Then, John Linnington allegedly began to beat her with a metal curtain rod until she was able to escape out a window.   

After reporting that incident to the police, G.S. also provided law enforcement with additional allegations of domestic violence suffered at the hands of John Linnington in past months.  

Last month, John Linnington’s mother, Marianne Linnington, grandmother, Marie J. Britton, and sister, Christa Linnington, were also arrested for witness tampering. Each has since been released pending trial.  

Tampering Allegations Against James Linnington 

While his nephew has been behind bars since April 2022, James Linnington allegedly gave two of his employees, who have since turned into state witnesses, “tasks,” according to prosecutors, including asking one of them to report on if the alleged victim had given birth to the child his nephew fathered with her, relying on connections they had with employees at local hospitals. 

Both employees turned their phones over to law enforcement and they allegedly contained several texts with James Linnington, which Assistant Prosecutor Bryna Batten read into the record in court. 

According to the texts, James Linnington pushed his employees to have the victim sign a letter he allegedly took part in drafting, minimizing the domestic violence that allegedly occurred between his nephew and the victim. 

“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 allegedly texted one of his employees. “Tell her that if she (the victim) 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).” 

“Rip up all those old letters, all of them,” James Linnington allegedly later texted the employee. 

“Send me the new letter or give it to me today. I’ll shred the old ones,” S.S., the employee, allegedly responded. 

Soon after, James Linnington texted S.S. that he had approved a vacation request she made at work. 

James Linnington allegedly tried to get a different employee, J.C., to convince the victim to agree to meet with an investigator from John Linnington’s defense team. 

When the victim did eventually meet with the investigator, they allegedly went over the letter paragraph by paragraph, and the victim recorded the meeting. 

During the meeting, there are times “where she had to look up the words, because they weren’t words that she would use in the normal context,” Batten told the judge of the contents of the letter. “She denies writing it and, even at one point during the interview, the defense investigator acknowledges that this is not something that appears to have been written by the victim and that appears like it may have been written by someone else.” 

James Linnington also allegedly told the employee they could offer the victim cash from him and that his niece, Christa Linnington, now a co-defendant, would be meeting with the victim and offering her uncle’s cash to the victim as well. 

“If she needs money, I’ll get you some CASH today. If she needs it for anything, the baby, school, clothes, etc.,” James Linnington allegedly texted the employee. 

James Linnington also allegedly attempted to use one of his employee’s daughters, who was around the same age as a daughter of the victim, to try to foster a relationship and open communication between his employee and the victim. 

He allegedly later asked that employee questions via text about the victim’s license plate, something prosecutors said was especially concerning. 

“Someone needs to ask her if she truly believes that he deserves 13 years in prison,” he allegedly texted the other employee, an apparent reference to the plea deal prosecutors were offering in John Linnington’s case. 

“If she does ask how she can help, let her know that she could write a letter. The letter could just say that in your heart you believe there was no intent for him to murder you. You really never thought he would do such a thing. Just angry words, which were very much normal between them. Maybe she could write a character letter on his behalf that might include the fact that they had an argumentative relationship and it was explosive,” another alleged text from James Linnington, which Batten read in court, said. 

Both employees turned witnesses told prosecutors they helped James Linnington “because he was in charge of their steady stream of income, so they wanted to stay on his good side, Batten told the court.  

Linnington’s Defense  

After expressing frustration May 1 that the detention hearing for his client would be delayed until May 3, Joseph Rodgers, James Linnington’s lawyer, was singing a much different tune after receiving some of the evidence against his client. 

Rodgers said he called the prosecutor “disingenuous” in an email, but after doing so, she sent him 126 pages of reports and hours of taped witness statements and several text messages. 

“I probably owe my adversary an apology for calling her disingenuous,” Rodgers said in court. “I jumped the gun because I was upset that it was going the way it did, but now that I have everything, I understand her thinking in what led her to do what she did.” 

Rodgers did note that his client had known the victim because she was one of his employees and his contact didn’t come out of nowhere. 

It’s not as if my client came out of the blue and began searching for connections. They’ve had these connections for years,” Rodgers told the judge. 

The lawyer said the time John Linnington spent behind bars started to wear on his family, including James Linnington. 

“What happens is, if someone’s in jail for a period of time, the family begins to see, much like society today sees, conspiracies everywhere. Who’s responsible for this?” Rodgers argued. “People then begin to become suspicious. They’re on phone calls. Christa (Linnington) apparently knows(the victim).They’re all contemporaries in some regard. And all of these people work together. So, my client may very well have been attempting to help his nephew.” 

He said when letting emotion drive your view of the process, it is easy for the family to see the prosecutor as “a bogeyman.” Rodgers did not admit that his client was responsible for writing the letter. 

“Who prepared it? Who wrote it? That’s a matter of conjecture because (the victim) signed it,” Rodgers said. “Was my client in some way responsible? Perhaps, perhaps not. Was it intentional or was it naive? Was it without advice? Was it without thinking? Probably all of those things.” 

He said he advised his client not to attend Christa Linnington’s wedding May 13 and that he agreed a no-contact order would be appropriate as a condition of his client’s release. 

He also said the two employees of his client who came forward to cooperate with the state should be able to keep their jobs but have no direct contact with their boss. 

Ultimately, Rodgers threw his client at the mercy of the court, telling the judge he would accept any set of conditions that resulted in James Linnington’s release. 

“I don’t care what level it is. I don’t care what conditions the court puts on it, because I think I would put similar conditions on my client’s release. No contact with anyone. No wedding. No third-party contact with anyone. No direct communications with these two ladies who work in his restaurant,” Rodgers told the judge. “I think that should assuage anybody’s concern that my client will do anything if he is released.”  

Court Weighs In 

In deciding to release James Linnington on level-three monitoring, requiring weekly reporting to pretrial services, Gibson, the judge, made it clear he thought James Linnington needed to take the criminal justice process more seriously. 

“It’s tough not to hear these allegations and not think for a moment that if about 5% of the energy that was taken to deal with everybody, communicate with everybody, text everybody, go back and forth, trying to figure out how we can get people in front of this victim so she will change her story, was redirected towards trying to figure out how to change this defendant, John Linnington’s behavior, and the fact that he’s engaged, on more than one occasion – at least based on the proofs that have been presented by the state – in domestic violence abuse of this victim, that we should be having a different conversation,” Gibson said. 

He said he found James Linnington’s behavior in court to be consistent with the way the state had painted him. The judge said he observed him tell his attorney several times throughout the hearing that what the state was saying wasn’t true, even though it was right there in black and white. 

“What you’re showing to me in our silent interaction here is you’re just not taking the state’s allegation seriously,” Gibson told Linnington. 

For the first time in the hour-plus proceeding, Linnington spoke up. 

“I am,” Linnington said to Gibson. 

“I wouldn’t say a word if I were you, sir. I really wouldn’t say a word,” Gibson responded. “I’m just telling you what I see. What I see is someone who is either minimizing or downplaying the allegations by the state.” 

The judge said James Linnington needed to take the underlying case involving his nephew more seriously and needs to respect no-contact court orders. 

At first glance, from my perspective, it looks like a duck. It looks like Mr. James Linnington was doing exactly what the state has accused him of doing: Trying to find a way for this victim of domestic violence abuse – who, by the way, was the victim of an attempted murder charge – for her to alter her story or change or lessen the version of events that she has put forth to law enforcement is exactly what’s going on here,” the judge added.  

To reach the reporter, Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com or call 609886-8600, ext. 142. 

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