By Krystal Spring
Havre Daily News
MISSOULA - State District Judge John McKeon on Wednesday denied a request by defense attorneys to let a physician examine Laurence Dean Jackson Jr.'s abdomen in front of jurors.
Dr. Cameron Parham, an emergency room physician at Northern Montana Hospital, had examined Jackson on May 30, 2003, the day after Jackson is accused of fatally shooting Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Rutherford and wounding deputy Loren Janis in a field near Harlem. Parham had noted a circular bruise on Jackson's lower right abdomen and said it may have come from a deputy's baton.
Defense attorney Bob Peterson said Jackson has an abdominal scar that resulted from of a more serious injury Jackson suffered during his confrontation with the deputies. Peterson said jurors needed to see the serious nature of the injury firsthand.
Though the defense has not yet presented its case, it said in opening statements that evidence suggests Rutherford was killed by a bullet fired by Janis that richocheted off of Jackson, perhaps from his hip.
The defense's request came in the fifth day of testimony by witnesses for the prosecution in a Missoula courtroom. McKeon moved the trial out of Blaine County over concern that pretrial publicity could have tainted the county's small number of prospective jurors.
Jackson is charged with deliberate homicide in the killing of Rutherford and attempted deliberate homicide in the wounding of Janis. The prosecution intends to seek the death penalty if he is convicted.
During Wednesday's testimony, Parham described the abdomen injury to jurors as "some kind of bruise" below Jackson's hipbone. She said she believed the injury was consistent with that from the tip of a deputy's baton. Parham's emergency room notes described the injury as "a circular bruise to the right lower anterior abdomen in the shape of the tip of a law enforcement baton."
McKeon dismissed the jurors for a short recess so the defense and prosecuting attorneys could discuss the defense's request to have Parham examine Jackson in front of the jury.
Peterson said several security officers could stand near Jackson during the exam, even holding onto the defendant if need be.
Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird opposed Peterson's request, saying the exam could endanger the court and the defendant.
"There's no secure or safe way for this to happen," she told McKeon.
Laird said the defense had ample opportunity - 17 months - to have the scar assessed by a medical professional in a controlled setting before the case went to trial.
Peterson said he believed that the prosecution's strong opposition to his request showed how important and relevant the information could be to jurors.
"This man is on trial for his life," Peterson said.
Peterson said he didn't expect Parham to diagnose the cause of the injury, but rather testify that the scar was consistent with the injury she examined in May 2003.
In denying the request, McKeon said the defense could ask to have Jackson examined by a physician in a controlled setting.
The defense is expected to use Jackson's abdomen injury as evidence when it presents its case to jurors.
Kay Sweeney, a forensic expert hired by the defense, has said that physical evidence shows that Rutherford was shot and killed by a bullet fired by Janis, which hit another object first - like the lower right abdomen of Jackson.
Sweeney has said he found microscopic particulates of fatty tissue on the shirt Rutherford was wearing, indicating the bullet hit something else before striking Rutherford.
Prosecutors allege Jackson wrestled Rutherford's Glock .40-caliber service handgun away from the deputy and shot him with it, then turned the gun on Janis, who returned fire.
After McKeon denied the defense's request, jurors returned and the defense began its cross-examination of Parham.
Parham said she couldn't recall why she had described the abdomen bruise as consistent with that of a police baton.
"So ultimately you have no idea where that baton assessment came from?" Peterson asked Parham.
"That's right," Parham responded.
The doctor said she treated two lacerations on Jackson's head, but found no other injuries on his body that required her attention. She said she observed some redness in Jackson's eyes, but said someone had told her that he'd been pepper-sprayed.
Brett Lund, a detective with the Billings Police Department, took the stand for the prosecution Wednesday. Lund conducted two interviews with Janis in Billings on May 30, 2003, after the deputy arrived there to receive medical care for his arm wound.
Lund said he interviewed Janis about 4:20 a.m., then again at 8:30 p.m., to gather information on the events of May 29. He said the interviews with Janis were consistent, with few discrepancies.
Lund also took nine pictures of Janis' gunshot wound, which were admitted into evidence Wednesday.
Dr. Robert Schultz, an orthopedic surgeon with the Billings Clinic, said he treated Janis' gunshot wound at Billings Deaconess Hospital on May 30, 2003. He told jurors that the bullet entered the outside of Janis' left arm, near his elbow, and exited near the crease by his forearm.
Schultz said the wound was consistent with most gunshot injuries, with a small entry wound and a large, more ragged exit hole. He said the bullet passed through the extensor muscles of Janis' left arm
"He was unable to actively extend his fingers or thumb" because of the injury, Schultz said.
He said the entry wound had a small ring of dark tissue surrounding it, a possible indicator of gunpowder residue. Schultz said that if the ring of dark tissue was in fact gunpowder, then Janis was likely shot at close range.
Dr. Randy Sibbitt, a Helena radiologist who interpreted two X-ray images of Janis's skull, said the two images of Janis taken in Fort Belknap showed a positive finding for a white metallic density by Janis's left ear. He said the finding is consistent with that of shrapnel or fragments of a bullet. He said it's possible that the bullet could have hit the skull and fragmented or ricocheted off something before hitting Janis.
The prosecution will continue its case on Friday.