By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
MISSOULA - Former Blaine County sheriff's deputy Loren Janis testified Thursday about the events that led to his wounding and the killing of a fellow deputy, and told jurors the trauma of that night in a Harlem field forced him to quit his job.
"It got too hard for me to stick around because of the shooting incident," Janis said.
Janis was one of the first witnesses in the trial of Laurence Dean Jackson Jr., 27, who is charged with deliberate homicide in the May 29, 2003, shooting death of deputy Joshua Rutherford and attempted deliberate homicide in the wounding of Janis. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Jackson.
Jury selection for the trial began Tuesday in Missoula. District Judge John McKeon moved the trial to Missoula after hearing arguments that media coverage of the case could taint the jury pool in north-central Montana.
Janis told jurors that he worked the night shift on May 29, 2003. He said the office was short-staffed that night, so he was the only deputy on duty.
Janis was in Chinook, more than 20 miles from Harlem, delivering fry bread to a fellow deputy, when Harlem resident Mary Blackbird called in a domestic disturbance complaint to dispatch, saying Jackson had locked her out of her trailer home. Janis said Rutherford, who lived just minutes from Blackbird, was called in to respond because the sheriff's department likes to have two deputies respond to domestic disturbance calls.
Janis said Blackbird's neighborhood was also a repeat area for crime, where deputies were often called to respond to loud parties or fights.
"Normally we never send an officer into that area alone," Janis added.
Janis said he drove 115 mph from Chinook to Harlem, arriving at the scene within minutes of Rutherford. He said he found Rutherford and Jackson in a field, with Jackson holding Rutherford's flashlight. He said Rutherford told him to pepper spray Jackson, which he did. Jackson didn't respond to the pepper spray or his commands to "get down," so Janis hit him in the thigh twice with his baton, he testified.
He demonstrated to jurors how hard he hit Jackson by striking the baton on the floor of the courtroom.
Janis said Jackson finally buckled after the second strike to his leg, and Janis and Rutherford rushed the man. Janis fell to the ground briefly. When he stood up, Rutherford had Jackson on the ground on his stomach, with his right arm twisted behind his back.
Janis used two men in the courtroom to demonstrate the position the two were in to the jurors.
"It seemed like deputy Rutherford had control at the time," he told jurors.
Janis said Jackson shifted his body and Rutherford seemed to lose control, so he stepped in to help. He said he raised his baton in the air, striking Jackson in the right shin.
He said Jackson continued to struggle with Rutherford, grabbing the deputy around the waist, so he raised his baton again to hit Jackson in the head.
That blow never hit Jackson, Janis said.
Janis said he heard three "booms" - gunshots - and then his body was suddenly thrown backward.
He said his left arm felt numb, so he looked down to see a 2-inch hole in his arm.
He looked up, he said, and saw fellow deputy Rutherford leaning forward, saying, "Loren, I've been shot. I've been shot by the heart."
Janis said he told Rutherford he'd been shot as well. He said he then saw a flash and heard another shot ring out. He drew his weapon and began firing at Jackson, while walking quickly to his patrol car to call for help.
Janis said Rutherford had dropped to his knees by then.
He said he remembered seeing Jackson fall once, and he thought he had hit him with his gunfire.
But, Janis said, Jackson got up and kept walking toward him, so he put a new cartridge in his gun and pointed his weapon at Jackson again. He said he told Jackson to "get down, or I'm going to kill you."
Janis said Jackson replied, "Well, shoot me then. I don't want to go back to prison."
Jackson emerged from the field with his hands up. Janis handcuffed him and put him in the patrol car, with the help of a bystander, he said.
"After that, my body just collapsed on me," Janis added
He told jurors his emotions ran high that night.
"I was really scared," Janis said. "I was afraid because no backup had arrived" and he was wounded.
During cross-examination by defense attorney Ed Sheehy, Janis said he never actually saw Jackson holding a gun, nor did he see Jackson shoot him.
"It was just too dark," he said.
Janis told Sheehy that he didn't give any verbal commands to Jackson before he pepper sprayed him, which goes against the "use of force" training he had received from the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. He also said that although the Blaine County Sheriff's Office has a policy for radio procedure that requires every deputy to take a portable radio along when leaving the vehicle, he was not carrying one that night because the department was having radio problems.
Janis said that he knew Jackson and knew he had a relationship with Blackbird. In fact, Janis said, he'd seen Jackson at Blackbird's house a few days earlier, when he was picking up Blackbird's child, whom Janis adopted.
Janis took the stand again this morning to finish his testimony.
In the prosecution's opening statement Thursday morning Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird said Jackson voluntarily chose to do a number of things on the night of May 29 - including drinking alcohol, getting involved in an altercation in which he bit another man several times, and locking Blackbird out of her trailer home. The final action led to Blackbird's complaint call to the sheriff's office, and Rutherford - who was off duty at the time - was called to respond. She said Rutherford arrived at the trailer in a marked patrol vehicle, wearing a polo shirt and a baseball cap that both displayed a logo of the Blaine County Sheriff's Office.
Laird said Jackson led Rutherford in a foot chase that took the two from the trailer, over an irrigation ditch, across U.S. Highway 2, over a barbed wire fence and into a field near a power substation south of Harlem. Janis, who was on duty at the time, arrived at the scene and was able to locate Rutherford and Jackson in the field after he heard voices and saw a flashlight beam, she said.
Laird said Jackson was given commands to "get down," "stop" and to "stay down," but he did not comply, so Janis used his pepper spray on Jackson's face, which "had no apparent effect on the defendant."
Laird said Janis struck Jackson twice with his baton before Jackson's knee buckled and he fell down to the ground. She said Jackson then struggled with Rutherford, grabbed his gun and shot three times, hitting Rutherford in the left chest and Janis in the left arm.
Havre attorney Bob Peterson, who also represents Jackson, gave an opening statement detailing what he said was a day of activities that led up to the shooting incident.
"We believe that this incident started in a trailer house that morning" and not in a field, Peterson said.
He said Jackson lived a "different kind of lifestyle," waking up May 29, 2003, at Blackbird's residence and drinking a glass of Kool-Aid and Everclear alcohol. He said Jackson continued to drink throughout the afternoon and evening, until he became very intoxicated.
Peterson said Jackson got into a fight with a man, biting him on the nose, at which time his shirt became covered with the other man's blood. He said Jackson found someone to take him back to Blackbird's residence, where he proceeded to throw her furniture around the house. When she arrived at the trailer, Jackson closed the door and would not let her inside her home. She called the sheriff's office from a neighbor's phone.
Peterson said Jackson soon emerged from the trailer, at which time Blackbird and several other people began chasing him. He said Rutherford soon arrived, dressed in a dark shirt and a cap that had small Blaine County Sheriff's Office logos - with no bulletproof vest - and pursued Jackson.
When Janis arrived, he found Jackson carrying Rutherford's flashlight in the field, Peterson said. Neither Rutherford nor Janis identified themselves to Jackson, he said.
He said Jackson was pepper-sprayed and hit with Janis' baton before being tackled to the ground by the deputies. He said Janis didn't see Jackson wrestle the gun from Rutherford or pull the trigger. After Janis ran back to his patrol car, Peterson said, Jackson emerged from the field with his hands up, saying, "I did not shoot. No gun. No gun."
A crime scene investigation turned up 18 blood samples and a total of 16 shell casings, Peterson said, but no shells were found around Rutherford's body.
Peterson said autopsy results showed no gunpowder residue around Rutherford's wound or the entry hole on his shirt, which means Rutherford had to have been shot from at least 30 inches away.
Jackson, having suffered from an alcohol blackout that night, will not take the stand in his defense, Peterson said, because he has no recollection of the evening's events.