Day Two of a high-profile case pits a man defending and demanding his rights against a trooper who had to make a split-second decision in a volatile situation.
Both sides presented opening arguments Tuesday in the trial of Ivan Lawyer, a state trooper who faces charges in the shooting death of 31-year-old Jason Kemp.
Prosecutors allege that Lawyer violated Kemp's 4th Amendment rights when he entered his house on July 20, 2010. Lawyer was trying to arrest Kemp after witnesses said Kemp was driving drunk at his house in the Redlands and ran into an embankment nearby. Kemp left the scene soon after, classifying the incident as a possible DUI and hit and run.
Lawyer was directed to Kemp’s house by witnesses and knocked on the door to make contact with the suspect, with the help of his field training officer, Corporal Kirk Firko. No one at the door initially answered, but after an escalation of events, prosecutors said Lawyer kicked open the front to confront Kemp and shot him when he thought he saw a weapon in Kemp’s hand.
The prosecution said the case centers around the trooper’s actions and one question: was he legally justified in forcefully entering the home and allegedly shooting Kemp?
The district attorney's office brought in the front door from Kemp's home as part of their opening statements. The door had splatters of blood and what appeared to be black boot marks on the outside. Prosecutors said that shows how much force the troopers used to gain access.
The defense presented a different account. They said Lawyer is a good guy and a good trooper, who in a terrible situation had to react very quickly. They said that Lawyer is a peaceful, Christian family man.
According to the defense, it was Firko who acted recklessly and escalated the situation, not Lawyer. They said it was expected for Lawyer to follow orders.
Continuing the opening statements, the defense said the coroner's testimony will show Kemp's arm was raised in a firing position at the moment of the shooting, and pictures show that he was wearing a silver bracelet on his right arm that defenders say could have easily been mistaken for a weapon in that split second.
Another new fact in the case came to light Tuesday. Kemp's blood alcohol content was nearly four times the legal limit at 0.281 when he was shot.
The defense tried to make the case that based on witness testimony, Lawyer had probable cause to try to make a DUI arrest at Kemp’s residence.
After opening arguments, prosecutors called their first witness to the stand, Jim Hebenstreit with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. He was the lead investigator for the critical incident team, which processed the crime scene, recorded all the evidence, conducted interviews with witnesses and involved parties. Hebenstreit was the only witness to take the stand today.
Lawyer is charged with four felonies and two misdemeanors. The most serious charge is criminally negligent homicide. The trial will continue tomorrow as more witnesses take the stand.
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