Havre Daily News
Defense attorneys for convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr. say they'd never seen a document forwarded by prosecutors that named two people, one a counselor, who had discussions with the state's sole eyewitness about his feelings of blame in the shooting death of his fellow deputy.
They also say prosecutors neglected to correct former Blaine County sheriff's deputy Loren Janis when he omitted the counselor's name during his testimony at Jackson's trial, and say the state had a duty to learn the substance of Janis' conversations with the counselor and a friend.
Defense attorneys Bob Peterson and Ed Sheehy Jr. are asking state District Judge John McKeon to hold a new trial for Jackson, whom a Missoula jury in November 2004 found guilty of charges of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide.
McKeon will hold a hearing on the matter on March 23.
In January, defense attorneys Bob Peterson and Ed Sheehy filed a request for a new trial based on a statement written by 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.
Prosecutors have asked McKeon to dismiss the motion because they say the defense attorneys were provided with the information they are seeking. Furthermore, prosecutors say Jackson's lawyers filed their motion for a new trial more than a year after their deadline.
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.
In Janis' statement, read by Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird during the sentencing hearing in December, 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.
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.
The attorneys wrote that their defense of Jackson, and their questioning of Janis, would have been vastly different if they had known of Janis' doubts. They said they would have been able to call additional witnesses to the stand who would show a different side of Janis.
“Because Mr. Janis was the only witness to recount what he claimed actually transpired in that field, everything that came out of his mouth about that event, every description of that event he gave to anyone, and every belief he held about what may have happened in that field was potential evidence in this case,” the defense attorneys wrote in a document filed Feb. 24.
“Defense counsel was entitled to show the jury the self-doubting, self-blaming officer who needed other people to convince him he was not responsible for his partner's death,” they added. “By selectively choosing what evidence to obtain and what evidence to disclose, the State insured that the version of Mr. Janis, essential for its charges against Mr. Jackson, was the only Mr. Janis to appear before the jury. This is ... thus a violation of Mr. Jackson's right to a fair trial.”
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.
Prosecutors have said they forwarded a list in May 2004 containing the names of the counselor and friend.
Jackson's attorneys said they don't recall ever seeing the list.
The attorneys also cited Janis' testimony at the trial, in which he failed to mention the counselor when prosecutors asked him to name people he had spoken to about the shooting. In the testimony, Janis said he had spoken only to law enforcement, family members and close friends who had come to see him in the hospital after the incident.
The attorneys said that omission is tantamount to false testimony allowed by the prosecution.
Jackson's defense lawyers also said it was the prosecutors' duty, by virtue of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, to provide information favorable to his defense. They also said one of McKeon's pretrial orders required prosecutors to uncover the substance of the conversations Janis had with his counselor and provide that information to the defense.
The attorneys denied the prosecutors' assertion that the defense motion had to be filed within 30 days of Jackson's conviction, citing a December Montana Supreme Court decision, which said trial judges have the inherent authority to grant a new trial without regard for time limits.