An involuntary manslaughter charge against a woman for the death of a Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office deputy was dismissed Thursday.
Jenna Holm, 36, was arrested in May 2020 after she drove off the road. She reportedly threatened deputies with a machete, and Deputy Wyatt Maser was hit and killed by Sgt. Randy Flegel while crossing the road to handcuff her.
To charge Holm with manslaughter, Watkins found, she would have had to be engaged in a criminal conspiracy that led to Maser’s death.
“Because the state has not alleged or adduced any facts indicating Sgt. Flegel acted in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate an unlawful act, as part of a common plan with Holm, probable cause does not exist to believe Holm committed involuntary manslaughter,” District Judge Dane Watkins Jr. wrote in his decision.
Watkins accepted the argument by public defense attorneys Rocky Wixom and Jordan Crane that Idaho law required that defendants be acting together for one to be charged with a killing committed by another.
Crane and Wixom cited the 2010 case State v Pina, in which Juan Carlos Fuentes-Pina kidnapped a victim and brought him home. Another man, Johnny Shores, shot and killed the victim.
Pina was convicted of first-degree murder even though he had not fired the gun. He appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court which ruled Idaho courts must follow the agency theory of felony murder, under which two people who plan and commit a felony together are both guilty of first-degree murder if one of them kills a person in the commission of that felony.
Defense Attorney Russell Spencer argued in a Sept. 8 hearing on the motion to dismiss that Holm’s actions were better viewed through State v Hokenson, in which a man attempted to rob a pharmacy with a homemade bomb. The man was arrested, but the bomb later exploded and killed a law enforcement officer attempting to disarm it.
Watkins said the Hokenson case was different from Holm’s because the bomb directly caused the officer’s death, whereas Holm’s machete did not directly cause Maser’s death.
Watkins noted that the prosecution argued her actions in disobeying police and refusing to surrender are what caused Maser’s death, because he was distracted while crossing the road to arrest her.
Watkins rejected that argument, however, saying it resembled the proximate cause theory the Idaho Supreme Court rejected in State v Pina. Under the proximate cause theory, a person who commits a felony is guilty of first-degree murder if a victim is killed by a third party as a result of the felony, even if the killer and the felon did not conspire to commit the felony together.
”The standard the State seeks to impose would permit convictions of involuntary manslaughter in any number of situations where law enforcement responds to any unlawful act (presumably including minor infractions) and a third party kills (accidentally or otherwise) a responding officer or bystander,” Watkins wrote in his ruling.
Though the involuntary manslaughter charge was dismissed, Holm is still being charged with aggravated assault for reportedly swinging a machete at Maser when he arrived on scene.
Crane celebrated the ruling in a statement to the Post Register Friday.
”We appreciate the Judge’s courage in doing the right thing and dismissing the manslaughter charge,” Crane wrote. “However, this is only the first step in finding justice for Jenna and Deputy Maser. One way or the other the truth will eventually come to light.”
Bonneville County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Alayne Bean also sent a statement to the Post Register.
“These kinds of things are part of the legal process,” Bean wrote. “We respect the judge’s decision and are weighing all our available options under the law, including an appeal.”
The dismissal was without prejudice, meaning the state could refile the manslaughter charge.
The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the ruling. Public Information Officer Sgt. Bryan Lovell said it would be inappropriate for the sheriff’s office to say anything while the case was ongoing, and referred the Post Register to the prosecution’s statement.
A pretrial conference in Holm’s case is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Jan. 24, 2022 in Bonneville County Court.