By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
MISSOULA - Disputing a major contention by the defense, the state medical examiner testified Thursday that an injury suffered by Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. on May 29, 2003 - the day he's accused of fatally shooting a Blaine County sheriff's deputy and wounding another - is not the result of a gunshot wound.
"The nature of the injury is a bruise with scraping on top of it," Dr. Gary Dale told jurors. " It's not a gunshot wound."
A forensic expert for the defense, Kay Sweeney, had testified that a bullet fired by deputy Loren Janis hit Jackson's hip area, causing a wound, and then struck deputy Joshua Rutherford in the chest, killing him.
Dale, who testified as a rebuttal witness for the prosecution Thursday, said Jackson's injury appeared to be a bite mark, rather than a bullet wound.
Jackson, 28, of Harlem is charged with deliberate homicide in the slaying of Rutherford and attempted deliberate homicide in the wounding of Janis. Prosecutors say Jackson shot both deputies after wrestling Rutherford's service gun away from him in a field near Harlem. The two officers had responded to a domestic disturbance complaint involving Jackson.
Jackson's trial began Oct. 14 in Missoula.
Dale said he examined several photos of Jackson's abdominal injury, which he said was a shallow wound, more like an abrasion or scrape than a gunshot injury.
Sweeney, who testified Wednesday and Thursday, said he found a number of microscopic fat globules on Rutherford's shirt, near the entry wound, which indicated that the bullet had hit some other tissue before striking Rutherford's chest. Sweeney said Rutherford's entry wound was elliptical, another indicator that the bullet "tumbled" into his body after hitting something else.
DNA analysis of the fat globules matched a DNA profile for Rutherford and eliminated Jackson as a contributor, he said. But he added that the results were expected because the fat particulates were contaminated with Rutherford's blood.
Dale said the fat globules on Rutherford's shirt were likely pieces of tissue that were disrupted by the bullet and spilled out of Rutherford's wound and onto his shirt.
"We see this all the time. It's not uncommon," he told jurors.
Dale said it was also highly unlikely that the bullet was tumbling when it hit Rutherford. He said the bullet divided one vein in Rutherford's chest in half and just missed an artery. Dale said a tumbling bullet would have carved a much bigger hole as it passed through the deputy's chest.
He said the elliptical shape of entry was likely caused by the position of Rutherford's left arm at the time of the bullet's impact. If Rutherford had his arm in a forward position, the bullet would have struck him at a steeper angle, causing an elliptical rather than circular wound, Dale added.
Dale also disagreed with Sweeney's testimony that the entry wound on Janis' arm was near the crease of the interior of his forearm, rather than the back of his arm, near the elbow. Dale said the characteristics of the wound on the back of Janis' arm were consistent with those of an entry wound.
"The bottom line is there is a marginal abrasion on the wound, just below the elbow," which is an indicator of an entry wound, Dale told jurors.
Dale said the dark ring of tissue on Janis' forearm had characteristics of "bullet wipe" -which consists of soot and other materials that are deposited on the wound as the bullet exits.
Dale said if the forearm wound was in fact a close-contact entry wound, as Sweeney had testified, than the wound would have had a great deal of gunpowder and soot within it.
"I could see with inexperience" how someone could misinterpret the dark ring around the wound as a close-contact wound, Dale told jurors.
Also on Thursday, Jackson testified, without the jury present, that he was exercising his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. The defense has said that Jackson was highly intoxicated at the time of the shooting and suffered from an alcohol blackout that prevents him from remembering the events of May 29, 2003.
If convicted, Jackson could face the death penalty.
The jury was issued instructions for deliberation Thursday afternoon. Closing arguments began this morning.