Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - For nearly 30 reasons, convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. should not be considered culpable for his crimes, a defense expert testified Wednesday.
Psychologist Craig Haney, a California university professor who has studied the lives of prisoners for three decades, discussed in a full day of testimony how Jackson had been affected by an upbringing filled with chaos, violence and alcoholism.
He enumerated 29 risk factors present in the 28-year-old Harlem man's life and said extensive studies have shown that five or six such factors increase a person's propensity for violent behavior.
“I have rarely seen anyone who has had so many ... risk factors present in his life. This is an extreme case,” Haney said.
During cross-examination, Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird argued that many people raised on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation endure some of the same hardships and do not commit violent crimes.
Jackson's attorneys are attempting to persuade state District Judge John McKeon to spare Jackson's life. He faces a possible death sentence for the May 29, 2003, slaying of Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Rutherford.
Last year, a Missoula jury convicted Jackson of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide. Prosecutors successfully argued that Jackson killed Rutherford with the deputy's own .40-caliber Glock pistol and wounded deputy Loren Janis in a field near Harlem after the deputies responded to a domestic disturbance.
Wednesday was the second full day of testimony in the Chinook courtroom. A U.S. Supreme Court mandate requires that before a death sentence is imposed, a convict's life history must be considered.
Immediately following the sentencing hearing on the homicide conviction, McKeon will consider Jackson's sentence for the attempted homicide charge. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison for that charge.
Haney, who has a doctorate in psychology and a law degree, has testified in numerous trials and hearings, has written a book about capital punishment, and testified before the California legislature and the U.S. House about the death penalty and prison life.
Haney delved into Jackson's medical, criminal and educational records; reviewed the records of his mother, Sivinna Jackson Gray; and interviewed Jackson and a number of his family members, neighbors and friends. He concluded that the Harlem man's life was undeniably altered by physical and emotional abuse, prenatal exposure to alcohol, poverty, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, instability and abandonment.
“He did not have large periods of time where he was free of this,” Haney said. “(The risk factors) had a powerful effect on who Larry was and who he became.”
The risk factors began when Jackson's mother drank alcohol during her pregnancy with him, something she admitted to, Haney said. They continued throughout a childhood guided by parents who admit that their own problems left them unfit to raise him. Alcohol was often present during Jackson's childhood and has played a role in most of his life, Haney said.
Jackson's attorneys have maintained that he was suffering from an alcoholic blackout when he led Rutherford on a foot chase in the final moments of the deputy's life.
Jackson was so accustomed to violence in his early years that he appeared unfazed when one fight between his mother and father left her naked and covered in bloody bite marks, a family friend told Haney. Jackson, who was about 3 years old at the time, calmly held his mother's hand while she described the fight to the friend, Haney said.
“These are the kinds of experiences that are very powerful,” Haney said.
Haney said Jackson suffered from severe physical abuse throughout his childhood. He said the defendant's sister, Lawanda, told him the siblings were beaten with “implements or tools” by a stepfather, and a medical document detailed fading wounds on a 10-year-old Jackson that were thought to be connected to abuse.
Several times during their upbringing, the children were left to fend for themselves, Haney said. Jackson's former elementary teacher described the children as “living out of a box” as they moved from one home to another in search of a place to sleep at night.
Haney said school was no respite for Jackson. He said underfunded schools were ill-equipped to offer Jackson a way out, nor did a community with severe poverty and high unemployment, and easily available alcohol, drugs and weapons.
Jackson dropped out of school in the ninth grade and turned to drugs and alcohol for help dealing with his life's problems, Haney said.
His drinking has only been interrupted by prison terms, Haney said. Jackson spent three years in state and federal custody for a felony assault conviction and a federal theft charge. His prison stays have been largely characterized by nonviolent behavior, Haney said.
A former girlfriend described Jackson as “gentle” and said the difference between bouts of drinking and periods of sobriety were “night and day,” Haney said.
Laird challenged the psychologist's assertions in extensive cross-examination by asking if those risk factors definitively lead to criminal behavior. She asked why many people who are exposed to some of the same factors while living on the reservation never commit crimes as severe as Jackson's.
Haney repeatedly stated that individual risk factors do not always lead to criminal behavior. He said Jackson, and others like him, are adversely affected by combined factors occurring over long periods during the early stages of life, and those factors have been shown in studies to increase the chance of violent behavior.
Laird noted that Haney had not researched the life histories of other people on the reservation.
Haney said he was comparing Jackson's case with the lives of people he's studied and those detailed in numerous studies, many of which were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Laird also noted that no medical records show that Jackson's mother drank while she carried him in the womb.
A record of a later pregnancy included a statement that she drank during all of her pregnancies.
Laird also challenged Haney's assertions that schools Jackson attended were poor. She asked if he had spoken to any school finance officials, and he admitted that he hadn't. He said he made the argument after talking extensively with one of Jackson's teachers, who is now a tribal official.
While Haney said the various risk factors associated with Jackson's life limited his available choices, he admitted that those factors did not eliminate those choices and chances.
Defense expert witness testimony was set to continue today. The hearing is scheduled to last through Friday.