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Spokane

Retrial delayed in 2006 murder case

Sat., Aug. 27, 2011

Earlier conviction used discredited testimony

A man convicted of murder based in part on what the Idaho Supreme Court ruled was false testimony from a state trooper is now scheduled to stand trial in November.

Jonathan Wade Ellington’s lawyer, Kootenai County deputy public defender Anne Taylor, requested the delay to allow an accident reconstruction expert more time to complete his report.

According to a ruling by 1st District Judge John Luster, jury selection is now set to begin Nov. 29 in what will be Ellington’s second trial on aggravated assault and second-degree murder charges for the death of Vonette Lee Larsen, 41, on New Year’s Day 2006. Larsen was run over by Ellington after a chase in northern Kootenai County that included her husband, Joel Larsen, firing a rifle at Ellington before the fatal incident.

Taylor has asked for Ellington’s charges to be dismissed because of double jeopardy, saying a new trial “would be the result of outrageous government conduct and therefore would violate Mr. Ellington’s due process rights under the Idaho and Federal Constitution,” according to the motion, which Luster will hear Thursday.

Ellington, 50, was serving a 25-year prison sentence when the Idaho Supreme Court overturned his convictions in May because of what justices said was false testimony by Idaho State Police Cpl. Fred Rice.

The court ruled Rice offered false testimony about average perception and reaction times, as well as the use of crash debris to determine a point of impact, that contradicted his testimony in previous cases. Had jurors known of the contradiction, they “would have been presented with a very different picture of what was already a very close case,” according to the ruling.

The ruling says it is “impossible to believe there was any truth to the testimony of Cpl. Rice.”

“It is abhorrent to this Court, as it would be to any other court, that a man can be sentenced to 25 years for second-degree murder based primarily on the false testimony of a trooper in this State.”

Rice remains on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

The Supreme Court ruling also criticized the work of Deputy Prosecutor Art Verharen, whom they said asked leading questions that appealed to jury emotions, including one that improperly referenced Ellington’s refusal to answer questions after his arrest.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh declined comment Friday but has previously said he supports Verharen, who is handling the second trial, and considers him a top prosecutor.

Ellington is in custody at the Kootenai County Jail.



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