Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The murder trial of Anthony St. Dennis of Missoula, 19, began in earnest in Havre Tuesday with opening arguments and the prosecution beginning to call its witnesses. St. Dennis is accused of killing Forrest Clayton Salcido, a homeless man in Missoula, in a brutal beating near the California Street Foot Bridge in Missoula on Dec. 5, 2007. Salcido died after receiving extensive injuries while being hit, kicked and stomped on in the face and neck. Dusty Strahan of Missoula, who is also charged in Salcido’s death, is expected to testify in St. Dennis’ trial. Strahan faces trial, also on a charge of deliberate homicide or accountability for homicide, in Great Falls in March. District Judge John Larson of Missoula has moved the St. Dennis trial twice, first to Great Falls and then to Havre. In their opening arguments, the prosecution and defense painted similar pictures with different results. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg described what was found In the initial and following investigation after the body of Salcido was found near the foot bridge at about 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 6, 2007, including a recorded phone call from the Missoula County Detention Center made on Dec. 6, 2007, in which St. Dennis admits he killed someone the night before. “I can’t imagine that anybody would really have a doubt, after hearing that, that Anthony St. Dennis is not guilty of the offense of deliberate homicide,” Van Valkenburg said at the end of his opening argument. Defense attorney Paulette Ferguson talked about a different result. While she said the defense is not denying that St. Dennis and Strahan met Salcido that night or even that there was a confrontation, it did not result in Salcido’s death, she said. The time of his death is not known, and who might have crossed the bridge and encountered Salcido after the young men did is not known. She said the medical examiner did not rule out that he had died of hypothermia from being outside on a cold night in Missoula. “We don’t know,” Ferguson said. The prosecution called numerous witnesses, including several via Vision Net from Missoula. Witness Garth Reibe of Missoula took the stand describing the discovery of the body while crossing the bridge on his way to work. Missoula Police Officers Mike Hebert and Bob Campbell and paramedic Kim Meyers testified about what they found when they arrived at the crime scene. Tim Salcido, who identified the body of his brother, Forrest Salcido, and Forrest’s cousin Tina Zawada, who saw him the night of his death and gave him a ride with her husband to a convenience store near the foot bridge, both became emotional during their testimony. Both described a man who, although he had family and friends in Missoula, chose to live on the streets, moving from area to area and making enough money to go drinking. Tim Salcido choked up while confirming that a prosecution exhibit was the photograph of his badly beaten brother he was shown while identifying his brother. Zawada, who described encountering Forrest Salcido several times on Dec. 5, 2007, before giving him a ride to the Kum & Go just north of the California Street Foot Bridge, broke into tears several times before her testimony was over. During his opening arguments, Van Valkenburg talked about the discovery of Salcido’s body then the arrival of police officers and the medical crew who confirmed the victim was dead at the scene. He also described the call to the police by the mother of Dusty Strahan, who had been told the night before her son and St. Dennis had fought a man at the bridge after pulling him off of a woman he was raping. Strahan was afraid St. Dennis would “settle the score” with him if he told anyone about their beating the man leaving him there, so asked his mother not to call the police, Van Valkenburg said. Van Valkenburg said Strahan’s mother at first hoped it had been a minor incident with no major repercussions, but when she heard the next day a man had been found dead she called the police. Strahan’s mother, and Strahan himself at first, stayed with that story when at the police stations, Van Valkenburg said. But once the investigating officers told Strahan there had been no reported assaults or rape attempts, he admitted he had made that story up, Van Valkenburg said. “Dustin Strahan folded like a deck of cards at that point,” he said. Strahan told the officers that he and St. Dennis had been sitting near the bridge when they saw an apparently homeless man walking by, and St. Dennis started harassing him, Van Valkenburg said. The harassment soon escalated and St. Dennis was fighting the man, with Strahan stepping in to help him when the man began to get the upper hand. After the man was knocked to the ground, he managed to get back up and start running, St. Dennis followed and caught him, knocking him to the ground again and kicking and stomping on him, Van Valkenburg said Strahan told the officers. Officers eventually found St. Dennis, hiding in a closet in his grandmother’s house in Missoula where he stayed, Van Valkenburg said. Officers searched the residence with St. Dennis’ and his grandmother’s consent, and seized tennis shoes and a sweatshirt that appeared to have dried blood on them, as well as some other items of apparel, Van Valkenburg said. St. Dennis was booked into the detention center and placed in a holding cell after he declined to be interviewed without an attorney present, Van Valkenburg said. It was at that point that St. Dennis called a friend, using a phone marked with a phone call declaring that the message would be recorded and might be monitored, Van Valkenburg said. During that conversation, St. Dennis bragged about killing the homeless man, Van Valkenburg said. “He really thought he had done something terrific ,” Van Valkenburg said. “I will play that call for you.” Ferguson said it was a different situation. Two young men St. Dennis was still a student at Hellgate High School in Missoula at the time had an altercation with a homeless man who had been drinking, but St. Dennis did not kill him, she said. In a conversation with Strahan the next day, St. Dennis told him there was no way they could have killed the man, Ferguson said. “Don’t be dumb.’” she said St. Dennis told Strahan over the phone when St. Dennis said they might have killed the man. Strahan’s testimony about the incident will be highly questionable, Ferguson added. “He does have reasons to embellish his story,” she said. Ferguson also dismissed the telephone call made from the detention center. St. Dennis was a terrified, confused 18-yearold, facing going into a jail with people he was afraid of, she said. He was just being macho, trying to build himself up, Ferguson said. “We’re talking about an 18-year-old high school kid who is scared to death,” Ferguson said. The trial continues today and is expected to last five to seven days.