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Guilty verdict in N. Idaho road rage trial

Wed., Feb. 1, 2012


Earlier verdict affirmed

For the second time in six years a Kootenai County jury has convicted a man of second-degree murder for fatally running over a woman during a 2006 road rage encounter with the woman, her husband and two daughters.

Jonathan Wade Ellington, 51, has already served six years in prison for the Jan. 1, 2006, incident but was released last year after the Idaho Supreme Court overturned his convictions because of problems with his first trial.

Judge John Luster on Tuesday allowed him to stay out of jail until his new sentencing, which is scheduled for March 26.

Ellington’s lawyer, John Adams, called the verdict the most unfair he’s seen in 30 years of jury trials.

“I can’t understand how any reasonable juror could reach that verdict,” said Adams, chief of the Kootenai County Public Defender’s Office.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh disagreed.

“I trust the jury process,” McHugh said. “We wouldn’t have gone forward if we didn’t think the charges as filed were warranted.”

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated Friday afternoon, Monday and for much of Tuesday before convicting Ellington of second-degree murder for the death of Vonnette Lee Larsen, 41, and two counts of aggravated battery for ramming her daughters’ vehicle.

Ellington was previously ordered to serve 25 years in prison for the crimes before his conviction was overturned. McHugh said today that he hasn’t yet decided what length of sentence to seek.

In 2006, Ellington reportedly punched Larsen’s daughters’ car window and the women, and eventually their parents, gave chase at about 90 mph.

Jovon and Joleen Larsen called 911, but the Bronco didn’t have a visible license plate so they continued after it to make sure law enforcement could find it, prosecutors say. Ellington went home but left again and the chase resumed. It ended with the Larsen family stopping their cars near Ellington’s Bronco. Ellington rammed the sisters’ Honda, pushing it more than 48 feet.

That’s when Joel Larsen brought out his .44 Magnum pistol and fired. Vonnette Larsen was run over seconds later.

Adams told jurors in his closing argument Friday that Ellington was fleeing gunfire when his Bronco struck Larsen. He said prosecutors were essentially arguing Ellington murdered Larsen “because he didn’t run away good enough” from people who had been “tormenting and chasing him.”

But prosecutors say Ellington chose to turn his Bronco into the wrong lane and accelerate toward Larsen instead of staying in his lane and driving away from the scene at Scarcello Road, north of Coeur d’Alene.

Ellington’s previous convictions were overturned when the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Idaho State Police Cpl. Fred Rice likely lied on the witness stand about accident reconstruction methods. The court also cited leading questions asked by prosecutors during witness testimony.

Rice did not testify at this trial, which began Jan. 19.

McHugh said this trial was conducted “in a very appropriate manner.”

The Larsen family declined comment after the verdict.

Sgt. Brad Maskell, who investigated the case for the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department, said he was pleased the jury saw the case the way his department has always seen it.

“I’m glad the jury took a look at the facts,” he said.

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