Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The third day of the Anthony St. Dennis murder trial unfolding in the Hill County Courthouse got off to a late start and a late finish Wednesday, as the court waited for jurors and then ran late as co-defendant Dustin Roy Strahan testified for the prosecution. “I’ve been trying to do good from the start of this,” Strahan told Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg when asked why he was testifying. St. Dennis and Strahan are both accused of deliberate homicide or accountability for deliberate homicide in the brutal stomping death of Forrest Clayton Salcido, a 56-year-old homeless man who was found dead near the California Street Foot Bridge in Missoula on the morning of Dec. 6, 2007. Strahan, who was called to the stand shortly after his mother, Melody Shoop, testified until about 5:15 p.m. in a session that started late after a juror and alternate were unable to make the trial. State District Judge John Larson of Missoula, who is presiding over the case, excused both for illness and the trial, scheduled to start at 9 a.m., didn’t get under way until after 10 a.m. The trial has been moved twice, first from Missoula to Great Falls and then to Havre, after Larson ruled that news stories in those areas could have made it difficult to seat an impartial jury. Strahan is scheduled to go to trial in March in Great Falls. Defense attorney Paulette Ferguson in her opening arguments cast doubts about the validity of Strahan’s testimony. The defense has argued that while St. Dennis and Strahan did meet and have a confronTation with Salcido on the night of Dec. 5, 2007, St. Dennis did not kill the victim. In the opening arguments Tuesday, Ferguson said Strahan has reasons to “embellish” his testimony. In the initial examination Wednesday, Van Valkenburg asked Strahan if he thought his testimony would help in his own trial, what he thought he would get out of testifying. “There’s nothing in it for me,” Strahan said. Strahan testified that he and St. Dennis, with whom he had been friends since the eighth grade, started drinking vodka in the late afternoon of Dec. 5, 2007. They finished a doublequart of vodka, which Strahan said he had received from his mother, Melody Shoop. They and another friend walked to Taco John’s and got some food, then later he and St. Dennis, at about 9:30 or 10 p. m., went to the Kum & Go convenience store on Broadway just north of the California Street bridge, Strahan said. They bought some food there, then went to the foot bridge, he testified. A little after 10 p.m., Strahan testified, the two young men St. Dennis was 18 at the time, Strahan 20 saw an older man walking across the bridge. St. Dennis approached the man and started harassing him, calling him profane names and insulting him. Strahan said the man eventually started arguing with St. Dennis, with the two calling each other names back and forth. St. Dennis then hit the man hard with his closed fist Strahan called Salcido by name throughout his testimony, but said he did not know who Salcido was at the time. The two began fighting with each other, he said. Strahan said that at one point, it appeared that St. Dennis was losing the fight, and he joined the fight to help his friend. “It looked like Salcido had the upper hand, so I jumped in,” Strahan said. He said after he hit Salcido a couple of times, he told the older man to leave, and Salcido started to walk away. St. Dennis followed him, caught up and more names and punches were thrown. At that time he also hit Salcido a few more times, and Salcido was also hitting both of them. Strahan testified that Salcido attempted to leave once more, while Strahan told St. Dennis not to follow him. But, he said, St. Dennis did follow again, and eventually threw Salcido to the ground. St. Dennis started kicking and stomping on Salcido, who appeared to be unconscious, Strahan said. That went on for 10-20 seconds, he said, and estimated that St. Dennis kicked or stomped on him at least 10 times. Strahan said he started to walk away, and St. Dennis followed him. They went to the home of St. Dennis’ grandmother, where St. Dennis lived, and St. Dennis went into the bathroom and washed blood, “a lot of it,” off of his tennis shoes, Strahan said. He said he then went to his home, where he told his mother that he and St. Dennis had been in a fight, but that they had been fighting a man who had been trying to rape a woman. In her testimony, Shoop said she knew something was wrong because when Strahan came home, sometime after 11 p.m., he was nervously pacing back and forth in the living room, crying. She said that after she calmed him down, she looked at his clothes and saw a bloodstain on his sweatshirt, but noticed no other bloodstains. She thought her son was probably overreacting and decided not to call the police at that point, she said. Shoop testified that she also told Strahan that the woman assaulted would come forward and corroborate his story, but he kept shaking his head and saying, “No, no.” When she saw on the Internet site of The Missoulian newspaper that a man had been killed at the California Street Bridge, she said, she went home and persuaded Strahan to go to the police. She took him there and they both gave statements, Shoop said. Strahan testified that when he first gave his statement, he stayed with the story that he and St. Dennis had been preventing a rape. When detectives came back and said they didn’t believe that story, he started crying and told them the real story, he said. “Because I needed to,” he said in answer to a question by Van Valkenburg. Strahan said he did not recognize the photo of Salcido’s face, covered in blood and contusions, taken at the crime scene when shown the photo by defense attorney Christopher Daly while Daly cross-examined him. Strahan said he did not realize Salcido’s face was covered in blood. “He might have (looked like that.) I wasn’t looking at his face,” Strahan said. Daly also asked Strahan about his agreement to testify in the St. Dennis case Strahan was given a letter of immunity, saying his testimony in Havre won’t be used in his own trial. Daly asked him about a clause stating that the testimony won’t be used as long as it is not substantially different from his previous statements. Daly also asked about a comment Strahan made when interviewed by defense attorney Ferguson, when Strahan said the police had walked him through an interview while he was confused. “Is (your testimony today) consistent with what happened, or consistent with the words they put in your mouth (when they) walked you through the statement?” Daly asked. “It is consistent with what happened,” Strahan answered. Daly also asked about a change in the testimony, where Strahan had originally said he was “blacked out.” Strahan said he had meant he did not remember all of the details, and did not realize that the phrase did not fit the actual definition of blacked out. Daly also asked several rapid fire questions about whether anyone else was at the scene, if Strahan had taken a bottle of Black Velvet from the victim, and if he spit on or kicked the victim. Strahan answered no to all of them.