Havre Daily News
CHINOOK - The sentencing of Laurence Dean Jackson Jr., a Harlem man found guilty of killing a Blaine County sheriff's deputy and wounding another, has been postponed to October.
The sentencing hearing was to begin April 27 for Jackson, whom a Missoula jury found guilty of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide on Nov. 5. Jackson was accused of slaying deputy Joshua Rutherford and wounding deputy Loren Janis on May 29, 2003. The jury determined he was eligible for the death penalty.
In a hearing Wednesday, Jackson's attorneys argued that they need more time to complete a background investigation of his life in order to present all of the information at the sentencing hearing. District Judge John McKeon agreed with their argument that "extraordinary circumstances" had prevented the investigation from being completed, and ordered the sentencing moved to Oct. 4.
Blaine County Attorney Yvonne Laird said in an interview after Wednesday's hearing that the decision was unfortunate but likely unavoidable.
"It's unfortunate that this process has to be delayed even further, putting the victims through further trauma, but under the circumstances it's probably necessary," she said.
State law provides for the presentation of mitigating evidence, or important factors in the accused's life history, at the sentencing hearing when the death penalty is being considered. The law also sets a maximum time period of 180 days between conviction and sentencing.
"The court finds that the Legislature intended to give some finality to the process of sentencing," McKeon said. "For this purpose they put forth a timeline. Hardships can arise in any number of situations that cannot reasonably be anticipated."
These hardships, McKeon said, included the fact that Jackson's lawyers were assigned a mitigation investigation specialist in July 2003. McKeon said he agreed with defense attorneys Ed Sheehy and Robert Peterson decision to put the investigation on hold, as Jackson was maintaining his innocence in the case and had not yet been determined guilty.
Sheehy told the judge that the defense struggled to locate that investigator after Jackson was found guilty. In December, Sheehy said, it was determined that the man had moved from Washington state to Arizona and was no longer available to handle the investigation.
The lawyers then contacted Holly Jackson, who testified Wednesday that such investigations are long, involved processes and that she would be unable to complete her work by next week.
Holly Jackson said in her testimony that such a background investigation involves studying hundreds of medical, psychological and institutional records as well as conducting interviews with family members, friends and co-workers of the accused. After identifying trends and contributing factors in the person's life history, Holly Jackson said, she would assist defense attorneys in selecting experts who could analyze the information and present it to the court at sentencing.
She said she was about halfway through her investigation.
Laird and assistant attorney general Carlo Canty argued that Holly Jackson had not spent enough time and effort to complete her investigation. They noted that she stated in her testimony that she had traveled from her home in Los Angeles to Montana for only two five-day trips in February and April.
The defense lawyers also argued that the state law setting the time limit was unconstitutional as applied to the case. McKeon denied the motion to declare the law unconstitutional.
Canty said he was satisfied that the judge had upheld the constitutionality of the law.