Havre Daily News
The sentencing hearing for a 28-year-old Harlem man convicted of killing a Blaine County sheriff's deputy and wounding another began today at the county courthouse in Chinook.
Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. faces the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole in the case.
State District Court Judge John McKeon recently denied a request by Jackson's attorneys to dismiss or modify his convictions, or order a new trial.
Now, during a sentencing hearing scheduled to last all week, defense attorneys Robert Peterson and Ed Sheehy will attempt to show the effect that prenatal exposure to alcohol, alcoholism as a young adult, a history of head injuries, and educational and cognitive difficulties have had on Jackson's life, court documents show.
State law provides for the presentation of mitigating evidence - important factors in the accused's life history - at the sentencing hearing when the death penalty is being considered.
A Missoula jury found Jackson guilty of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide on Nov. 5, 2004. Jackson was accused of slaying deputy Joshua Rutherford and wounding deputy Loren Janis on May 29, 2003.
During the trial, Janis testified that he and Rutherford responded separately to a domestic disturbance. When Janis arrived, he said, Rutherford and Jackson were in a field. Janis said he struck Jackson several times with a baton and used pepper spray. Rutherford and Jackson were wrestling on the ground, Janis said, when he heard three shots.
Janis, who was struck in the left arm, testified that Rutherford leaned forward and told him he had been shot. Janis said he then heard another shot and saw a muzzle flash.
Several people in the area helped Janis subdue and handcuff Jackson.
On Dec. 3, Jackson's lawyers filed a motion for a new trial on both charges, or dismissal or modification of the deliberate homicide conviction, a court document said.
In a memo filed a week later, Sheehy and Peterson wrote that they had three grounds for their request:
a “wholly inadequate” jury deliberation;
a lack of sufficient evidence proving Jackson caused Rutherford's death; and
“contradictions and inconsistencies” in the evidence.
Jackson's lawyers noted that it took jurors fewer than six hours to reach a guilty verdict and about 15 minutes to declare him eligible for the death penalty. The defense lawyers wrote that the state, and Janis, its key witness, had failed to prove Jackson was holding the gun or pulled the trigger. They noted that forensic evidence showed no gunpowder residue on Rutherford's chest and only a small amount on Jackson's left hand. A state crime lab expert testified that the gun had to have been at least 30 inches away from Rutherford to leave no residue.
On Nov. 18, McKeon denied the defense's request. In his decision, he wrote that the jury adequately deliberated, that the state provided sufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Jackson killed Rutherford, and that essential elements of the case supported the verdict.
On Wednesday, the defense filed a motion asking McKeon to eliminate the death penalty as a possible verdict. Jackson's lawyers cited a plea agreement presented by the prosecution on Dec. 22, 2003, which offered a sentence of life without parole in exchange for guilty pleas.
“The court must find that the state can not be allowed to try and have this Court impose the death penalty at this juncture, or at the very least, place him at risk of that punishment, when it was willing to let him live in December 22, 2003,” Peterson wrote.
The prosecution responded by saying it had always made clear the death penalty was a possibility. In his response, assistant attorney general Carlo Canty noted that the prosecution filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty on Oct. 17, 2003. He wrote that the prosecution is not bound by the terms of an agreement that was never reached.
“It was at all times the state's express intention to seek the death penalty absent a formal and final agreement between the parties, and no one suffered from a misunderstanding that the death penalty could not ultimately be imposed,” Canty wrote.
The judge had not ruled on that motion.