Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - State District Judge John McKeon today sentenced convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. to life in prison without parole.
McKeon said the combined weight of mitigating evidence presented by defense attorneys was “substantially significant to call for leniency.”
The prosecution had asked for the death penalty for Jackson, who was convicted last year of killing Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Rutherford in a field near Harlem.
During the seven-day hearing, defense attorneys Ed Sheehy and Robert Peterson presented a case for leniency with evidence showing that the 28-year-old Harlem man's life had been irrevocably affected by fetal alcohol exposure, violence, physical and emotional abuse, depression and alcoholism.
Jackson bowed his head when McKeon read the sentence. Sheehy and Peterson each put an arm around him when the sentencing hearing in the Blaine County Courthouse ended this morning.
Rutherford's mother, Maxine Magpie Clifford, said in an interview that she is satisfied with Jackson's sentence for the deliberate homicide charge.
“I'm glad that he didn't get the death penalty. I would never want another mother to suffer how I've suffered,” she said.
The sentencing did not give her closure, she added. “It'll never be closed because my son will always be gone.”
A Missoula jury convicted Jackson of killing Rutherford with the deputy's own .40-caliber Glock pistol as the two struggled and wounding deputy Loren Janis in a wheat field on May 29, 2003. The two deputies had responded to a domestic disturbance call involving Jackson.
McKeon was to begin a sentencing hearing at 11:30 a.m. today on Jackson's attempted homicide conviction, stemming from the wounding of Janis.
The defense had wrapped up its closing arguments in the first sentencing hearing on Wednesday, when Sheehy again asked McKeon to spare Jackson's life.
“Nothing this court does will bring Josh Rutherford back,” he said.
Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird had argued that the defense was using Jackson's troubled childhood as a “crutch.”
Sheehy countered that the defense is presenting evidence regarding the level of Jackson's “moral responsibility.”
“There's a substantial difference,” Sheehy said.
“It's not a crutch,” he added. “It's not an excuse. It's to assess his moralculpability.”
Sheehy said prosecutors have been trying to get McKeon to ignore what the U.S. Supreme Court has said for 30 years - that a defendant's background and social history must be weighed in capital punishment cases. He said McKeon must consider the entire package of mitigating evidence offered by defense witnesses.
Jackson's extensive criminal record - which included about 30 tribal court convictions, a state felony conviction for assault and a federal conviction for theft - is not a basis for imposing the death sentence, Sheehy said. Jackson's background, he said, is an explanation for all of those convictions.
He pointed out that all of Jackson's convictions involve alcohol, and he recalled testimony from witnesses who described Jackson as “kind,” “quiet” and “respectful” when he was sober.
Jackson has said he was in an alcoholic blackout the night Rutherford was killed and does not remember any of the events.
Prosecutors dispute that and also have said Jackson made a choice that day when he consumed alcohol, knowing it could lead to a blackout.
Sheehy said the prosecutors' position fails to recognize that alcoholism is a chronic illness.
He also made note of Jackson's record of incarceration, which he said was free of violence.
Sheehy said McKeon also must consider the circumstances surrounding Rutherford's death. He said the deputy was ill-prepared that night.
Rutherford responded to the disturbance call while off-duty and left his house without a bulletproof vest or a duty belt, which contained a safety strap to hold his pistol in place, Sheehy said. Rutherford did not wait for Janis to arrive before chasing Jackson into a field, even though he knew radio problems would cause him to lose contact with dispatchers.
“Your honor, I don't like making these arguments,” Sheehy said. “It was not right for Larry Jackson to take Josh Rutherford's life.”
“The court must consider the nature and circumstances of the crime,” he added.
Sheehy said Rutherford's family “always has and always will” have his sympathy. He said he knows their loss cannot be quantified and that they had no chance to say goodbye.
“But that's not a basis upon which the death penalty can be imposed,” Sheehy said.
The prosecution earlier in the hearing argued that the mitigating factors presented by the defense aren't significant enough to warrant anything less than the death penalty. Laird asked the judge to sentence Jackson to life in prison on the homicide charge if the judge rejected the death penalty.