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Road rage murder retrial now in jury’s hands

Seven women and five men will return to the Kootenai County Courthouse on Monday to continue deliberating the fate of a North Idaho man who ran over a woman during a road rage encounter in 2006.

This is the second time Jonathan Wade Ellington has stood trial for his role in Vonnette Larsen’s death.

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, Jan. 1, 2006.

But Ellington’s lawyers say he was fleeing gunfire from Vonnette Larsen’s husband, Joel Larsen, when the Bronco ran her over.

John Adams, head of the Kootenai County public defenders, told jurors that prosecutors are essentially arguing that Ellington murdered Larsen “because he didn’t run away good enough” from people who had been “tormenting and chasing him.”

The fatal encounter began when Ellington allegedly 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.

During testimony this week, Joel Larsen told jurors that he could have shot Ellington in the head at close range but didn’t because his daughters could have been struck. He instead tried to shoot out the Bronco’s motor. The bullet shattered its back window.

Prosecutor Art Verharen said Ellington made a series of choices that show malicious intent. He chose not to take the clear lane to safety, and he chose not to stay home when he stopped there after the first encounter with the sisters. He also chose to turn his Bronco toward Larsen, and he chose to accelerate.

Verharen said Ellington was not acting out of fear. “He’s not afraid of these two women. He demonstrated that very, very clearly,” he said.

He emphasized that Ellington was at a friend’s home for about an hour after the fatal encounter, but said nothing about what he’d just done. “That should tell you something about his frame of mind,” Verharen said. “What he did was purposeful.”

But Adams said jurors don’t have enough to convict Ellington.

“That is not evidence that he murdered Vonnette Larsen,” Adams said. “That’s evidence that he didn’t run away good enough.” He reminded jurors that the prosecution’s expert admitted that he “can’t say with 100 percent certainty” that Ellington knew what he was doing when he hit Larsen.

Adams told jurors Ellington behaved poorly when he confronted the sisters, but “he’s done six years for that – that’s enough.”

Ellington was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and aggravated battery in 2006, but his convictions were overturned last year when the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that an Idaho State Police corporal lied on the witness stand about accident reconstruction methods. The corporal, Fred Rice, did not testify at this trial, which began with opening statements Jan. 19.

In addition to second-degree murder, jurors can also consider alternative charges, including manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter.

The jury began deliberating about 12:30 p.m. Friday and adjourned about 5 p.m.