Murder trial proceeding much faster than expected
By RALPH BARTHOLDT
The murder trial of Jonathan D. Renfro is proceeding much faster than expected, which may result in scheduling problems for defense attorneys.
After 10 witnesses were called Monday on the first day of the trial in Coeur d’Alene’s First District Court, defense attorneys voiced their concerns to the court.
Deputy Public Defender Linda Payne told the court she had scheduled expert witnesses to testify on Renfro’s behalf after the prosecution rested, which was supposed to be no earlier than two weeks into the trial.
The trial was originally scheduled for six weeks. Prosecutors said they may rest their case as early as Friday.
“We are moving at a very rapid pace,” Payne said. “I am concerned about the experts.”
Defense experts were set to appear in mid-October, but by midday Tuesday the state had called more than 15 witnesses, twice what it had expected for the second day of the trial.
Payne and co-counsel Keith Roark were worried their out-of-state experts would be unavailable to appear earlier than scheduled.
“That could be chaotic,” Roark said.
Prosecutors acknowledged the enhanced timetable.
“We are going twice, almost three times as fast as I anticipated,” Deputy Prosecutor David Robins said.
District Judge Lansing Haynes is presiding over the trial of Renfro, who is charged with first-degree murder and five additional felonies stemming from the May 5, 2015, killing of Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore.
Haynes initially planned to take Wednesday afternoons off, so jurors and attorneys could recuperate and get their bearings after 2 and a half days of solid testimony.
Haynes changed his mind after hearing counsel’s concerns, and ordered a full day off today. In addition, he ordered court to start at 9 a.m. instead of at 8:30 a.m. each morning it is in session.
Haynes told defense counsel despite the schedule change, their witnesses must appear when called.
“Defense should do everything they can to be ready to go when the state is done,” Haynes said.
By RALPH BARTHOLDT
COEUR d’ALENE — Dirt fields in an industrial area near Stateline that lie pressed between the interstate and a trunk road were the object of testimony on the second day of Jonathan Renfro’s murder trial in Coeur d’Alene.
Renfro is charged with first-degree murder and faces the death penalty for the fatal shooting two years ago of Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore.
Described by a witness as a glorified gravel pit, the empty fields on the south and west sides of Walmart Superstore and Sysco Spokane, and bordering West Pointe Parkway in Post Falls, are used by truckers to store semi-trailers.
In this checkerboard of weeds and litter drifted up from Interstate 90, deputies and police from several agencies spent the early hours of May 5, 2015, looking for a suspect and the evidence they knew was discarded in the wind-fanned acreage.
Sgt. Greg Moore’s police car, call sign K27, was found abandoned there after Renfro stole it in Coeur d’Alene and ditched it, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors started the day in court Tuesday showing video from Sgt. Moore’s patrol car dashcam, a slow, sweeping array of headlights sweeping residential streets and yards after midnight in spring.
The footage was from Moore’s patrol car’s Failsafe system, a backup to the camera that is activated by police. It runs constantly, recording what’s in front of a police vehicle, without audio.
The Failsafe footage showed a person walking in a neighborhood. The car stops when Moore confronts the shadowy figure. Then minutes later, after Moore has been shot and is lying in his own blood in the street out of camera view, the car moves again.
But now Renfro is behind the wheel of the car.
It speeds away through streets and intersections, it passes stop signs and cruises through traffic lights for more than 10 minutes until it comes to rest near the field along West Pointe Parkway.
The footage, a silent film detailing the car’s movement, lasted more than a half-hour Tuesday morning. More footage, this time from surveillance cameras at Walmart, showed Renfro wearing dark clothing crossing the empty parking lot, and walking to one of the store entrances.
Video from 300 cameras records at Walmart 24/7, said Sarah Koenig, who was head of security at the store in 2015.
“It covers all of the inside, every angle in property and off property,” Koenig told the court. Several of the cameras point west toward Cabela’s, she said.
Renfro looked into the glass door then walked away, heading west into the night toward the gravel field along West Pointe Parkway.
“Eighteen-wheelers are parked out there, typically,” Koenig said.
Among the 18-wheelers is where Kootenai County K9 handler deputy Jason Shaw led his dog around 3:45 a.m. after having been called to the scene by superiors.
“I was in bed sleeping,” Shaw said.
Once he was apprised of the situation, he packed up and rolled toward the command station law enforcement had set up on the bridge at Exit 1 of I-90 after finding Moore’s car a quarter-mile away.
“I wanted to get paws on the ground,” Shaw said.
He and his dog, Bari, scanned the Walmart lot where the suspect had been two hours earlier before the Dutch shepherd pulled hard at the 30-foot lead as it neared a series of tractor trailers parked in the field.
The dog discovered Renfro jammed in the undercarriage of one of the trailers, the 40-caliber Glock he had stolen from Moore’s body was hidden in the framework along with two large-capacity magazines.
A hollow-point bullet was in the chamber of the Glock and the magazines were loaded.
Shaw located him by his screams.
“Ouch, ouch ow,” Renfro yelled.
As Renfro was being bitten by Bari, Shaw shouted into the dark undercarriage at Renfro to show his hands. Shaw saw one of Renfro’s hands fall empty from the undercarriage, but did not call off the dog.
“Because the other hand could have a gun in it,” Shaw told the court.
Renfro was pulled from the framework of the trailer and cuffed by Post Falls police.
“He was wedged up high,” officer Bradley Johnson said. “He was pulled onto the ground and pulled out.”
Kootenai County Major Crime Unit detective Jerry Northrup was called to find evidence in the expanse of gravel and weeds. He found Moore’s flashlight, stolen by Renfro from Moore’s tactical gear after Moore was shot. The flashlight lay in the empty field south of West Pointe Parkway west of the ditched patrol car. Northrup found Renfro’s Zippo lighter and his eyeglasses.
Deputy public defender Linda Payne objected to prosecutors repeatedly showing the evidence to the jury — close-up images of maps, gun magazines, Moore’s handgun, the stolen flashlight — but District Judge Lansing Haynes overruled the objection.
The probative value of the repeated use of the evidence exceeded its capacity to be prejudicial, Haynes said.
The objection was one of few Payne had voiced in two days of trial. A day earlier she had objected to prosecutors’ use of dashcam footage of Moore’s car being driven by Renfro as a Post Falls police officer gave chase because, Payne argued, it wasn’t relevant. Renfro had already pleaded guilty to eluding.
Haynes had overruled that objection using the same logic.
She concurred with the judge’s decision.
“The evidence is going to be entered anyways,” Payne said.
The trial resumes Thursday at 9 a.m.