Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - State District Judge John McKeon spent the better part of 90 minutes Thursday morning explaining why most of the reasons defense attorneys gave for sparing the life of convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. were of “little” or “moderate” significance.
So some courtroom observers were surprised when McKeon concluded by sentencing Jackson to life in prison. Jackson bowed his head and his attorneys put their hands upon his shoulders.
McKeon said the combined weight of all of the defense evidence and testimony led him to grant leniency when he sentenced Jackson to life in prison without parole for the shooting death of Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Rutherford.
After a second sentencing Thursday afternoon on a separate conviction for attempted deliberate homicide in the wounding of deputy Loren Janis, McKeon tacked on a second life sentence and then added another 100 years to the sentence after designating him a persistent felony offender.
McKeon said the consecutive sentences ensure that Jackson will spend the rest of his life in prison.
A Missoula jury last year convicted Jackson, 28, of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide, and found him eligible for the death penalty. The prosecution said Jackson fatally shot Rutherford after wrestling the deputy's service pistol away from him and wounded Janis after the two deputies responded to a domestic disturbance call involving Jackson.
After Thursday's sentencing, Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird issued a written statement declaring McKeon's sentences “fair and appropriate.” She and assistant attorney general Carlo Canty had been seeking the death penalty on the homicide charge.
“Justice has finally been served for Blaine County Deputy Sheriff Joshua Thomas Rutherford and his family, and former Blaine County Deputy Sheriff Loren Janis and his family,” the statement said. “The Defendant will never again be able to endanger and harm another law enforcement officer or member of our community.”
Defense attorneys Ed Sheehy of Helena and Bob Peterson of Havre said they were pleased with McKeon's decision to grant leniency.
“We're still very happy because his life was saved,” Sheehy said after the hearing. “That's really what this is all about.”
Peterson said today the attorneys were “disappointed” McKeon did not give Jackson the chance for parole. The defense had recommended an 80-year sentence, which would have given Jackson his first chance for parole after 20 years in prison.
Sheehy said he couldn't definitively say whether he and Peterson will file an appeal, but called it “more than likely.”
Rutherford's mother, Maxine Magpie Clifford, also said she was satisfied that Jackson would live out his life in prison. She said she “would never want another mother to suffer how I've suffered.”
Members of Jackson's family declined to comment.
Jackson waved to a group of about 10 family members as deputies led him out of the courtroom. Several in the group, including Jackson's mother, Savinna Rose Wing, cried. Sheehy and Peterson spoke to the group for a few moments before they, too, filed out of the courtroom.
In eight days of court proceedings, defense attorneys called experts, family and friends to the witness stand in a plea for leniency.
The attorneys argued that the sum total of Jackson's life, marred by prenatal alcohol exposure, physical and emotional abuse, violence, depression, alcoholism and drug use - and failures by state, tribal and federal legal systems to provide treatment during previous jail and prison terms - had lessened his moral responsibility for the crimes.
Prosecutors repeatedly tried to discredit defense experts and maintained that Jackson made choices on May 29, 2003, that led to the chaotic final moments of Rutherford's life in a field near Harlem.
The judge recounted the events of that night before sentencing Jackson:
Jackson spent the day drinking grain alcohol, whiskey and beer with his girlfriend and other companions. After leaving his girlfriend's residence, he returned to find her gone and ransacked the home. When she returned, she called authorities.
Janis was on duty that night in Chinook, and Rutherford was at home in Harlem, playing a game with his son. He responded to the call, arriving before Janis. A neighbor discovered Jackson, who was hiding in nearby bushes, and Rutherford gave chase. Jackson led the deputy across U.S. Highway 2, through an irrigation ditch and into a field of weeds and tall grass.
When Janis arrived on the scene, he found Jackson and Rutherford in a struggle. Rutherford was breathing heavily, and Jackson was covered in blood. He had bitten Rutherford twice and also had possession of the deputy's flashlight.
Janis tried to help subdue Jackson with pepper spray and an asp. In his final moments, Rutherford was on top of Jackson. Janis testified that he heard loud shots, and Rutherford told him he had been hit in the chest. Janis was struck in the left arm.
Laird read a written statement by Janis during the sentencing hearing for Jackson's attempted homicide conviction. In it, Janis said the events had ruined his life. He wrote that he feels “hate” for Jackson.
“You don't know what you put me through then and now,” Janis said.
Janis also wrote that he began to believe rumors that he, and not Jackson was responsible for Rutherford's death.
During the trial, Fort Belknap Indian Health Service nurse Theresa Petersen testified that Janis was questioning himself, asking whether he shot Rutherford, when she treated him after the shooting.
Janis said in the statement that several hours of counseling and discussions with close friends have given him confidence that he was not to blame for Rutherford's death.
“It's yours to blame, Laurence,” he wrote.