Havre Daily News
Prosecutors say state District Judge John McKeon should not grant convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. a new trial for two reasons: Defense attorneys are making a fuss over evidence they already had, and the motion for a new trial was filed more than a year late.
Last month, defense attorneys Bob Peterson and Ed Sheehy filed a request for a new trial based on a statement written by former Blaine County sheriff's deputy Loren Janis and read at the final stage of Jackson's sentencing in December. Janis wrote that he had begun to believe rumors that he, rather than Jackson, was responsible for the death of fellow deputy Joshua Rutherford.
Jackson is now serving two life terms, plus 100 years, for wounding Janis and fatally shooting Rutherford on May 29, 2003, in a field near Harlem after the deputies responded to a domestic disturbance call involving Jackson.
A Missoula jury in November 2004 found Jackson guilty of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide.
The prosecutors - Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird and assistant attorney general Carlo Canty - had a deadline of Friday to respond to the motion for a new trial.
In a response filed Friday afternoon, Canty asked that McKeon deny the defense motion based on lateness and said defense attorneys had been provided with the names of a counselor and friend Janis had spoken with regarding his feelings about blame over Rutherford's death.
Peterson today said he has not seen the prosecution's reponse.
“We get an opportunity to respond, and we will,” he said.
In Janis' statement, read by Laird during the sentencing hearing, he wrote that he had begun to believe the rumors, but that after conversations with a counselor and a close friend, he realized that Jackson was the only one to blame for Rutherford's death.
Defense attorneys said in their request that the statement was the first time they'd heard that Janis had spoken to the counselor and a friend, adding that Jackson's trial may have had a different outcome if the jury had learned of Janis' self-doubt.
The attorneys also said Janis had failed to mention those conversations at his deposition in the spring of 2004.
During Jackson's trial, the prosecution successfully argued that Jackson shot Rutherford with the deputy's service weapon as the two struggled on the ground. Sheehy and Peterson had sought to point out inconsistencies between Janis' story and the physical evidence. Janis testified that he watched at close range as Rutherford attempted to subdue Jackson.
In their motion for a new trial, Jackson's lawyers asked how Janis could believe he was to blame for Rutherford's death - because Janis had testified that he did not have his weapon drawn at the time of the shooting. -- In his response, Canty noted that Janis in May 2004 had made an amendment to his deposition, adding counselor Hillary Maxwell and Janis' friend, John Colby, to a list of people he had spoken to about the shooting. That amendment was sent to defense attorneys on May 18, 2004, about five months before the trial began.
The prosecution did not possess any evidence concerning the content of Janis' conversations with Maxwell and Colby, and the defense never made a diligent attempt to gather that evidence, Canty wrote.
“If defense counsel wanted to know more regarding those communications, they had every ability to ask further questions, both at the time of the deposition and particularly subsequent to Deputy Janis's amendment to his deposition,” Canty wrote.
“This is simply a case where requisite diligence was not exercised with respect to the ‘evidence' in question,” he added. Prosecutors had no duty to “go on a ‘fishing expedition' to obtain information regarding the communications.”
Canty said Janis' statement read at the sentencing hearing was an expression of “survivor's remorse.”
“The defense would have the Court believe that Deputy Janis's words are tantamount to an admission, or near admission, of sole responsibility for acts causing the death of Deputy Rutherford, thus, excluding the Defendant as the perpetrator,” Canty wrote. “Yet ... when fairly considered in context, Deputy Janis is merely attempting to express his psychological responses to what he believed were the possible circulation of rumors regarding blame for the overall incident in which Deputy Rutherford was killed.”
There is a “significant difference” between such responses and “the physical act of shooting and killing Deputy Rutherford,” Canty added.
Canty also argued against the defense's assertion that the prosecution's case rested solely on Janis' testimony. Jackson has maintained that he was in an alcoholic blackout and does not remember the events of that night.
The prosecution presented “numerous witnesses and items of physical evidence” in its effort to prove Jackson guilty, Canty wrote.
Canty also noted that the defense motion was filed 433 days after Jackson's conviction. He wrote that state law and various court decisions do not allow such motions to be filed more than 30 days after the conviction.
Jackson's attorneys have twice asked for a new trial.
A month after Jackson's conviction, his lawyers filed a motion asking for a new trial, or a dismissal or modification of the deliberate homicide conviction. Sheehy and Peterson wrote that they had three grounds for their request: a “wholly inadequate” jury deliberation, a lack of sufficient evidence proving Jackson caused Rutherford's death, and “contradictions and inconsistencies” in the evidence presented during the trial.
On Nov. 18, McKeon denied the defense's request. In his decision, he wrote that the jury adequately deliberated, that the state provided sufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Jackson killed Rutherford, and that essential elements of the case supported the verdict.
McKeon last week granted a defense request to extend the deadline for filing a notice of appeal for the conviction. Defense attorneys now have until March 8.