Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - State District Judge John McKeon on Tuesday denied a new trial for convicted killer Laurence Dean Jackson Jr., whom a Missoula jury 18 months ago found guilty in the shooting death of one Blaine County sheriff's deputy and the wounding of another.
In an order filed Tuesday morning in state District Court in Chinook, McKeon wrote that evidence and argument presented by defense
attorneys did not merit a new trial, based on the standards of state law and U.S. Supreme Court case law.
Jackson, 28, is serving two life terms, plus 100 years, for the slaying of deputy Joshua Rutherford and the wounding of fellow deputy Loren Janis on the night of May 29, 2003.
Havre attorney Bob Peterson today said he and Helena attorney Ed Sheehy will move forward with their appeal, filed in state Supreme Court on March 7. The higher court had sent the case back to McKeon for a ruling on the defense lawyers' motion for a new trial.
“Now the whole case will be in the lap of the Supreme Court,” Peterson said.
Rutherford and Janis were responding to a domestic disturbance call involving Jackson. During the November 2004 trial prosecutors argued that Jackson wrestled Rutherford's service weapon from the deputy and, in a rapid succession of shots, used it to fatally shoot Rutherford and wound Janis.
In two motions and a March 23 court session, defense attorneys Bob Peterson of Havre and Ed Sheehy Jr. of Helena argued that a statement written by Janis and read at Jackson's sentencing hearing in November contained new evidence that should have been considered by jurors.
In the statement, Janis said he “started to believe” rumors that he was to blame for Rutherford's death.
Conversations with a close friend, himself a former Blaine County sheriff's deputy, and “numerous hours” of counseling alleviated Janis' self-blame and made him realize that Jackson was to blame for the slaying, he wrote.
The defense lawyers initially said the statement was the first they'd heard about Janis' conversations with a counselor. They maintained that the former deputy's feelings of self-blame could have been explored during the trial, had they been aware of the content of those counseling sessions.
During the March 23 hearing, Peterson said he could not in his files find a document, sent by prosecutors, that included the counselor's name amongst a list of people Janis had talked with about the shooting. Sheehy was able to find it in his files, and the attorneys said they had not talked about the list of names.
McKeon agreed with Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird and special prosecutor Carlo Canty, who argued that they were under no requirement to uncover the content of Janis' conversations with his counselor. Furthermore, the judge wrote, defense attorneys had adequate opportunity to do their own investigation into Janis' counseling sessions.
“Failure of defense counsel to maintain an orderly file or to appropriately communicate with each other does not excuse the lack of diligence,” McKeon wrote.
The judge also wrote that “a reasonable probability does not exist that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different” if the content of Janis' counseling sessions had been discussed at trial.
He disagreed with the defense's assertion that the prosecution's case rested solely on Janis, and cited other witnesses and testimony presented at the trial.
McKeon also wrote that defense attorneys attempted to show Janis' self-doubt during the trial by calling an Indian Health Service nurse to the stand. The woman testified that she heard Janis questioning himself over whether he had shot Rutherford.
“Indeed, (the nurse's testimony) related to events at the hospital soon after the shooting whereas Janis' victim statement is nearly 18 months later,” McKeon wrote. “Further, the context of Janis' statement 18 months later is one of a victim responding to rumors. ... Taken as a whole, the confidence of the jury verdicts rendered herein has not been undermined.”