The Idaho State Police says its top accident reconstruction expert did not lie on the witness stand in a fatal road rage case that sent a Hayden man to prison for 25 years, even though the Idaho Supreme Court indicated the police official did give false testimony.
ISP officials Friday released results of their internal investigation into testimony provided by Cpl. Fred Rice, a 28-year agency veteran. Rice was put on paid administrative leave in June after the Supreme Court suggested he perjured himself in the second-degree murder case of Jonathan Wade Ellington, 50.
The justices overturned and ordered a new trial for Ellington, who was convicted of running over a woman during a New Year’s Day 2006 encounter on a Kootenai County roadway.
“The investigation is now complete and utilizing all the information available to me I have determined that Master Corporal Rice did not lie during any of the testimony in question,” Col. G. Jerry Russell said in a statement.
Russell said his conclusion is based on information Supreme Court justices reviewed “as well as additional facts they did not have to make their decision. I want to reiterate that the ISP internal investigation provided me with additional facts concerning this matter that the justices were not aware of at the time of their decision.” Russell did not detail that additional information, and declined further comment Friday.
The court overturned Ellington’s convictions in May because of what justices said was false testimony by Rice, as well as prosecutorial misconduct.
Rice has been on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation. Russell said Rice “will shortly be back to serving Idaho with ISP in a full duty capacity.”
He also stated, “It is my responsibility as the ISP Colonel to ensure our standards are being met and hold those employees accountable when they fail to do so. It is also my responsibility to stand behind our employees when they did not error so both our employees and the citizens of Idaho can continue to have confidence in their Idaho State Police.”
Ellington faces a second trial, set to begin in November, on aggravated assault and second-degree murder charges for the death of Vonette Lee Larsen, 41. Larsen was run over by Ellington after a chase north of Coeur d’Alene that included her husband, Joel Larsen, firing a rifle at Ellington before the fatal incident.
The state Supreme 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 court ruling says it is “impossible to believe there was any truth to the testimony of Cpl. Rice.”
Ellington’s lawyer, Kootenai County deputy public defender Anne Taylor, has asked for her client’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.”
Prosecutors said during the first trial that Ellington purposely rammed a car driven by the Larsens’ daughters because he was angry at them for pursuing him, and then ran over Vonette Larsen. Defense attorneys, however, said when Ellington hit Larsen, he was fleeing for his life after the pursuit and after being shot at by her husband.