Judge to weigh dismissal for fingerprint oversight
Trial is scheduled to begin this week for a North Idaho man imprisoned for four years on a murder conviction that was overturned because the Idaho Supreme Court ruled a state trooper lied on the witness stand.
Jonathan Wade Ellington has been free since early November on a $50,000 property-backed bond after returning to Kootenai County from a prison near Boise.
Ninety-four Kootenai County residents are to report to the courthouse this morning for jury selection. Opening statements could occur as early as Thursday morning.
But first, Judge John Luster will decide whether to dismiss the case against Ellington because of a last-minute evidence issue defense lawyers say infringes on his right to a fair trial. Prosecutors had earlier thought a fingerprint analysis of evidence found no conclusive identifiers. But they recently learned the expert had meant the final analysis only excluded Vonnette Lee Larsen, whom Ellington is accused of murdering. Ellington’s lawyers, public defenders John Adams and Ann Taylor, say the oversight violates evidence disclosure rules.
Ellington is accused of running over Larsen, 41, in 2006 during a fit of road rage north of Coeur d’Alene. Larsen and her husband were pursuing Ellington after their daughters told them he’d punched their windshield, and at one point before the fatal crash Joel Larsen fired a rifle at Ellington. A jury convicted Ellington in September 2006 of second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery, and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Last May, the Idaho Supreme Court unanimously ruled Ellington deserved a new trial, in part because prosecutors asked improper questions meant to turn the jury against Ellington. The court also said Idaho State Police Cpl. Fred Rice gave testimony on accident reconstruction that conflicted with statements he’d made in previous court cases and contradicted training materials he’d prepared.
Rice denied the accusation, and Idaho State Police cleared him of wrongdoing in September after an internal investigation.