Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - State District Judge John McKeon will consider evidence presented in court Thursday before deciding whether convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. deserves a new trial, the District Court clerk said.
In the hearing, Jackson's defense attorneys argued that the prosecution failed to provide them with evidence - namely the significance and substance of
conversations between a primary witness and a mental health counselor - before or during the Harlem man's trial. Prosecutors said they provided the defense with the counselor's name, and that was enough.
Jackson, 28, is serving two life sentences, plus 100 years, in prison for the slaying of Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Rutherford and the wounding of former deputy Loren Janis. McKeon sentenced Jackson in December after a Missoula jury found the man guilty of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide in November 2004.
The defense's bone of contention stems from a victim's impact statement written by Janis and read in the final hours of the sentencing hearing.
In Janis' statement, read by Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird, he wrote that he had begun to believe the rumors that he had caused Rutherford's death, but that after conversations with a counselor and a close friend, he realized that Jackson was the only one to blame.
Defense attorneys Bob Peterson of Havre and Ed Sheehy Jr. of Helena maintain that Laird and assistant attorney general Carlo Canty should told them that Janis was speaking to a mental health counselor. Furthermore, the attorneys said prosecutors should have sought the substance of those conversations.
Peterson and Sheehy have said that Janis' apparent doubts would could have become a significant portion of their defense strategy.
“It was our position ... that certainly this appeared to have the earmarkings of an accidental shooting,” Peterson testified Thursday. “Anything that Mr. Janis said or discussed with any person would have been critical ....”
Peterson testified that he could not find a list of names of people Janis spoke to following the May 29, 2003, shooting, though he said he had no way of disputing that Laird mailed the list in the spring of 2004. He also admitted that Sheehy has the list in his possession.
Peterson maintained that the list - which only names the counselor and does not give a title or explain her connection to Janis in any way - was not enough to satisfy the prosecutors' duty to provide information about the case prior to the trial.
Laird, who also took the stand Thursday morning, and Canty said that the defense attorneys should have communicated with each other regarding the list, and said a little investigative work by Peterson and Sheehy would have yielded the information they're seeking.
Laird testified that she did not think Janis' counseling sessions had any importance, adding that she considers mental health records as privileged information.
“I had no reason to believe that it was material to this case,” Laird said.
Peterson and Sheehy filed their notice of appeal for the convictions in the state Supreme Court on March 7. On March 15, the court remanded the matter to McKeon, saying it would hold any decision on the appeal until after McKeon rules on the motion for a new trial. If McKeon agrees to a new trial, Laird and Canty will have until April 17 to appeal his decision, he said Thursday.