By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Defense attorneys for a man charged in the slaying of a Blaine County sheriff's deputy have withdrawn a motion to close a court hearing to the public later this month.
The hearing for Lawrence Dean Jackson Jr., charged with the fatal shooting of deputy Joshua Rutherford, is set for Dec. 22 in Chinook.
The decision to withdraw the request came less than a week after an attorney representing the Havre Daily News filed a motion opposing the closure.
Havre lawer Bob Peterson,, who represents Jackson, said Monday the decision to withdraw the request did not result from the intervention by the Havre Daily News. He declined to say why the request was withdrawn.
Peterson asked state District Judge John McKeon during Jackson's Sept. 22 arraignment to close an omnibus hearing to the public. The defense did not disclose its reasons for seeking to close the hearing.
In Montana, a judge can order a criminal proceeding to be closed if information disseminated at the hearing would create a "clear and present danger" to ability of a defendant to get a fair trial.
"The only reason they could close it is if they could show prejudice to the defendant's right to a fair trial," said Helena attorney John Shontz, who represented the Havre Daily News. "This requires a very high standard of proof."
Jackson is charged with one count of deliberate homicide and one count of attempted deliberate homicide in connection with a May 29 shooting that killed Rutherford and wounded deputy Loren Janis. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Jackson, who is represented by Peterson and Helena lawyer Ed Sheehy.
Citing concerns about pretrial publicity and Jackson's ability to have an impartial jury in Blaine County, both the prosecution and the defense requested that Jackson's trial be moved from Blaine County and the judge agreed. Both sides have submitted recommendations about where the trial should be held, but McKeon has not ruled on that question. Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird has recommended Miles City or Deer Lodge, while Jackson's lawyers have requested Missoula or Anaconda.
Court documents show that McKeon has ordered prosecutors to give detailed information at the omnibus hearing about alleged confessions by Jackson that they intend to introduce at trial. Also, Jackson's attorneys must outline the defense they plan to employ.
Jackson's attorneys plan to argue mistaken identity and justifiable use of force, court records show.
Jackson's attorneys could not be reached for comment about the planned defense. Blaine County attorney Yvonne Laird also declined to comment.
"We're not issuing any statements beyond what is included in the court documents to preserve the integrity of the case," she said.
Jackson is accused of shooting Rutherford in the chest while the two were struggling in a dark field along U.S. Highway 2 near Harlem. Prosecutors say Jackson wrestled the deputy's Glock .40-caliber handgun away from Rutherford.
Jackson had been off-duty that night and was called from home to help respond to a domestic disturbance. Laird would not say whether he was in uniform at the time of his death.
Defense attorneys hired a psychologist to perform a mental evaluation of Jackson prior to his arraignment. Dr. Joseph Rich found Jackson competent to stand trial, and court records show defense attorneys will not argue insanity or mental disability.
"The defendant will not raise a defense, as to mental disease or defect, in the guilt phase of the trial," said a brief filed by Sheehy. If Jackson were to be found guilty, the defense said it may call Rich to testify about mitigating circumstances, which can be argued during the sentencing phase of a trial.
Mitigating and aggravating circumstances must be considered by a judge when determining whether to impose a sentence of death or prison in deliberate homicide cases. Mitigating factors include that the defendant acted under extreme mental or emotional disturbance, and that the defendant's ability to appreciate his actions was impaired.