Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - Convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. on Monday asked state District Judge John McKeon to spare his life.
The 28-year-old Harlem man, convicted last year of killing a Blaine County sheriff's deputy and wounding another, said he wants “to prove I am worthy to have a future.”
Jackson spoke before closing arguments began in the sentencing hearing on his deliberate homicide conviction for the slaying of deputy Joshua Rutherford. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
Jackson told McKeon he has tried unsuccessfully to remember the events of May 29, 2003. The defense has maintained that Jackson suffered an alcoholic blackout that night.
“It is difficult for me to know what to say here because I have no memory of that night,” he told McKeon. “I have tried day in and day out to remember something, anything.”
Rutherford was home that night, playing a game with his son, when he was called, along with deputy Loren Janis, to respond to a domestic disturbance near Harlem.
Arriving on the scene first, Rutherford went on his own to look for Jackson. When Janis arrived, Rutherford and Jackson were struggling in a wheat field.
Prosecutors argued at the trial that Jackson took Rutherford's service pistol and fatally shot him before wounding Janis. The jury found Jackson guilty of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide.
Before closing arguments began, McKeon told the attorneys that in order for him to spare Jackson's life, the defense attorneys must prove “significantly substantial” mitigating circumstances in Jackson's life that would cause the judge to be lenient.
Defense attorneys asked McKeon to sentence Jackson to 80 years in prison for the homicide conviction, making him eligible for parole in less than 20 years.
Attorney Robert Peterson, during closing arguments, told McKeon that the whole package of mitigating factors presented by the defense since the hearing began last Tuesday make the case for leniency.
Testimony by expert witnesses, family members and friends painted a dire picture of Jackson's life, crippled at the beginning by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and compounded by abuse, abandonment and alcoholism.
“He came from an extremely dysfunctional and extremely disadvantaged background,” Peterson said.
Peterson also said the defense has “highly contested” the jury's verdict.
“From the defense's standpoint, there are still some lingering doubts in this case,” he said.
During the trial, defense attorneys argued that the prosecution never proved that Jackson held Rutherford's gun or fired it.
Defense attorney Ed Sheehy argued that Rutherford's actions played a role in what transpired that night. He said Rutherford was ill-prepared when he responded to the call because he did not wear his duty belt, including a safety strap to hold his .40-caliber Glock pistol in place, and did not bring a radio. Also, Rutherford did not wait for Janis to arrive before he pursued Jackson, Sheehy said.
Sheehy, citing U.S. Supreme Court cases, said the death penalty is reserved for criminals who acted with the intent to kill.
Sheehy said the 80-year term is consistent with those given to other convicted killers who did not act with intent.
He said Jackson would benefit from the structured environment of prison.
“We ask the court to give him a chance to be rehabilitated,” Sheehy said.
Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird recommended a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole if the judge finds that a death sentence is not appropriate.
“There is simply, your honor, no justification for allowing the defendant to re-enter society,” she said.
Laird said the defense failed to prove that any mitigating factors are “substantially significant” enough to warrant anything less than a death sentence.
She argued that expert witnesses cannot definitively say that Jackson was in an alcoholic blackout the night Rutherford was killed. She also said Jackson's statements to a Blaine County undersheriff and a paramedic that night conflict with testimony that Jackson was blacking out after he consumed grain alcohol, whiskey and beer that day.
“The blackout theory simply does not hold water,” Laird said.
Laird also attacked the defense's assertions that Jackson's troubled childhood affected his ability to judge his actions the night Rutherford was killed. Many other people on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation have the same problems in their lives, but do not choose to take another person's life, Laird said.
She pointed to the testimony of Jackson's sister, Lawanda, who grew up in the same environment and struggled for years with alcoholism. Lawanda found treatment for her problem and has made a contribution to her community, Laird said.
“The defendant chose to use his childhood as a crutch,” Laird said.
She also praised Rutherford as a pillar of the community who was taken before his time.
“Deputy Rutherford never walked away from a responsibility in this community,” Laird said. “Had his life not been so brutally stripped away from him, who knows what he would've accomplished.
“Whenever a person takes the life of a peace officer, that person demonstrates a lack of respect for society,” Laird added.
The hearing was recessed Monday until Wednesday, when the defense will have the opportunity to rebut the prosecution's closing argument.
After the hearing is completed, a second hearing will be held to determine sentencing for Jackson's attempted homicide conviction.