Sign at the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility, the jail at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

Sign at the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility, the jail at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. (U.S. Army)

An Army deserter convicted of sexually assaulting children is being held in a military jail at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., as civilian law enforcement investigates his possible involvement in the death of a taxi driver, service officials said Friday.

Spc. Jonathan Kang Lee, 25, is being held at the Northwestern Joint Regional Correctional Facility on Lewis-McChord, just south of Tacoma. He is from Great Falls, Va., and has been assigned to Lewis-McChord since 2019.

Authorities are piecing together Lee’s locations and actions during the 12 days he was the run, from Jan. 14 to Jan. 26.

Lee was scheduled to face a court-martial on Jan. 16 for six charges of child sexual assault, each carrying a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Lt. Col. Jennifer Bocanegra, public affairs officer for I Corps, the main Army command at Lewis-McChord, said Lee had been removed from his position in an intelligence-gathering unit in April 2022 when the assault allegations against him were first raised. A local prosecutor charged Lee with sex crimes in 2022. News accounts at the time said civilian prosecutors ceded the case to the Army because some of the crimes could have occurred in Georgia, beyond the local civilian court’s jurisdiction.

Lee was then ordered to report for duty each day at Lewis-McChord to monitor his whereabouts, Bocanegra said. However, the Army did not place him in pre-trial confinement. The Manual for Courts-Martial states a defendant should only be placed in pre-trial confinement if the crime is serious, they are a flight risk, or there is danger of them committing another similar crime prior to trial, she said.

“In the case of Spc. Jonathan Lee, the soldier was reporting for duty daily and living in the barracks without incident,” Bocanegra said. “He did not have a history of other criminal misconduct or unlawful absences. As always, until convicted at a trial, a soldier is presumed innocent.”

Lee was last seen at the base on Jan. 14 driving a white sport utility vehicle. By Jan. 15, he was reported as a deserter, and the Army Criminal Investigation Division put out an alert that Lee was on the run and asked anyone with information on his whereabouts to contact the division.

The Army issued a “WANTED” poster for Spc. Jonathan Kang Lee after he deserted from Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Jan. 14, 2024.

The Army issued a “WANTED” poster for Spc. Jonathan Kang Lee after he deserted from Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Jan. 14, 2024. (U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division)

The court-martial was held without Lee, and he was found guilty in absentia of all charges and sentenced to 64 years of confinement.

Army investigators worked with regional police to locate Lee. He was apprehended Jan. 26 about an hour north of Lewis-McChord. He was transported back to the base and placed in a correction facility that the Army said is equivalent to a medium-security prison in the federal system.

At the time of Lee’s arrest, police in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila were searching for the soldier as a “person of interest” in the death of Nicholas Hokema, 34, of Tumwater. He was a taxi driver for RediCab, based in Olympia, about 15 miles southwest of Lewis-McChord.

Hokema was found on the morning of Jan. 15, unconscious and bleeding from multiple stab wounds, according to local police. He was transported to a medical facility where he was pronounced dead.

Hokema was last seen driving a 2012 red Toyota Camry with the markings of RediCab.

Authorities found the car in Redmond, another 22 miles north of Tukwila. Lee was arrested at a location that Redmond police said was just blocks from where the car was found.

Lee was a “person of interest” in the death of Hokema, according to Tukwila police.

Now Lee could face additional military charges for desertion and any crimes that he committed while he was a deserter.

“A soldier who is absent without leave remains subject to military jurisdiction,” Bocanegra said.

The Army has been criticized for being less likely to confine soldiers who are involved in sexual assault cases than other crimes. A 2022 investigation by Pro Publica and the Texas Tribune found 8% of soldiers facing court-martial by the Army for sex crimes were under pre-trial confinement. The report found the Army at Lewis-McChord kept 9% of sex crime defendants in pre-trial confinement compared to 14% for all other charges.

author picture
Gary Warner covers the Pacific Northwest for Stars and Stripes. He’s reported from East Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and across the U.S. He has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

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