Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - Convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. almost certainly suffers from a fetal alcohol disorder that would limit his ability to control his behavior and judge the consequences of his actions, a defense witness said Thursday.
Statistician Fred Bookstein said Jackson's brain was malformed due to his mother's binge drinking during pregnancy, giving 43-to-1 odds that Jackson suffers from the disorder.
Bookstein testified during the third day of a sentencing hearing for Jackson, who faces a possible death penalty for the slaying of Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Rutherford.
Defense attorneys also called five character witnesses Thursday to testify about his youth, his attitude and actions during periods of sobriety, and his conduct in the Hill County Detention Center, where he has been held since his arrest.
They said Jackson was kind, gentle and respectful during periods of sobriety.
Last year, a Missoula jury convicted Jackson of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide. The charges stemmed from a confrontation on May 29, 2003, when Rutherford, along with deputy Loren Janis, responded to a domestic disturbance. Prosecutors argued that Jackson, 28, killed Rutherford with the deputy's service pistol before wounding Janis during a struggle in a field near Harlem.
State District Judge John McKeon will decide Jackson's fate on both counts. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the homicide charge.
Bookstein testified Thursday thathe concluded Jackson suffers from one of five conditions grouped together as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder after viewing an MRI of Jackson's brain. He compared it to similar images he collected during a study of the brains of patients diagnosed with the disorder and people who had not been exposed to alcohol while in the womb.
Bookstein has a doctorate in statistics and works at the Fetal Alcohol and Drug Research Unit at the University of Washington. He is widely considered the father of morphometrics, which combines geometry, computer science and mathematical biology to measure the shape of organs in the body. He has written numerous books and scholarly articles about the discipline, which he has been working in for almost three decades.
In Bookstein's study, he found that those who have been diagnosed with the disorder had a deformed corpus callosum, the part of the brain that links the brain's two hemispheres.
Bookstein said it is “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Jackson suffers from the spectrum disorder, which would diminish his ability to understand rules of behavior and the consequences of his actions.
During cross-examination, assistant attorney general Carlo Canty attempted to paint Bookstein as a radical. The statistician maintained that his work has been accepted by the scientific community.
Bookstein said scholarly articles published about his work have undergone rigorous review by others in various fields of science, and the National Institutes of Health has been among the organizations that have funded his work.
Canty asked Bookstein if his work has been replicated by other researchers.
It has not, Bookstein said, because of limited funding available under the Bush administration.
After Bookstein's testimony was completed, defense attorney Robert Peterson called character witnesses to the stand.
Jackson's aunts, Christine and Carmen Jackson, testified that his mother, Sivinna Jackson Gray, drank 101-proof Bacardi rum during her pregnancy, sometimes on a daily basis.
At one point, Peterson asked Christine Jackson how she would feel if Jackson were put to death.
Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird objected. She argued that Jackson family members' opinions about the death penalty should not be considered by the judge, and noted that Rutherford's family members will not be allowed to testify about whether Jackson should be put to death.
McKeon allowed Peterson to ask Christine Jackson how she would feel if Jackson were “taken away.” She said she would be “devastated.”
Hill County detention officer Jesse Dibblee testified that Jackson started out in the jail's maximum security pod, but was moved to medium security because of good behavior. Jackson was returned to maximum security after an Oct. 4 incident in which he and two other inmates destroyed a table that was bolted to the jail's concrete floor.
Retired teacher Evelyn Gopher said Jackson was gentle and well-behaved during the year he stayed with her. Jackson was kicked out of his stepfather's home around the age of 15 and spent some time living with Gopher, whose son was Jackson's friend.
Gopher said she set strict rules in her home. During cross-examination, Gopher said Jackson appeared to understand her rules and expectations.