U.S. Forest Service agent Brent Jacobson was on duty as a peace officer when he was shot and killed, a judge ruled Monday as the murder trial of two brothers neared its end.
The ruling means James and Joseph Pratt could face the death penalty if they are found guilty of first-degree murder of Jacobson, a Provo, Utah, native. Idaho law calls for the death penalty in the slaying of a peace officer on duty.First District Judge Watt Prather's ruling determined what instructions the Kootenai County jury will hear at the end of the Pratts' murder trial, which will hear closing arguments Tuesday.
Defense attorneys said Jacobson voluntarily joined the 22-hour manhunt for James Pratt, 29, of Indian Hills, Colo., and Joseph Pratt, 27, of Sandpoint, after the brothers allegedly robbed occupants of a house.
Prather ruled that Jacobson, a woodsman with expertise in tracking, had been "commanded" by Bonner County Sheriff Chip Roos to take part in the manhunt near Sandpoint, in northern Idaho about 80 miles northeast of Spokane.
The judge also said Jacobson, the first Forest Service law-enforcement agent to die in the line of duty, had clearance from his superiors to participate.
Prather said the jury will be sequestered while it deliberates the fate of the Pratt brothers, who are charged with 16 felonies in addition to first-degree murder as a result of the Jan. 12 shootout.
The judge told the jurors to "pack an overnight bag." The jury was excused before noon Monday to give Prather and attorneys time to prepare the jury's instructions.
Defense attorneys Jonathan Cottrell and Bruce Greene argued that Jacobson joined the search voluntarily and that his participation was unofficial because the crimes did not take place on Forest Service land.
"Brent Jacobson's efforts here, I'm sure, were admirable," Cottrell argued. "But they're volunteer efforts as far as the law is concerned."
Prather agreed that neither Bonner County Prosecutor Phillip Robinson nor the defense presented any witnesses who testified that Jacobson had been specifically "commanded" to help in the manhunt, but ruled that Roos' testimony that he asked Jacobson to help amounted to language that Jacobson could not legally decline to obey.
The Pratts, who roamed the Northwest with escaped spy Christopher Boyce and later testified against him for pay in a 1982 bank robbery trial, are accused of breaking into a Sagle household Jan. 11 and robbing its occupants before fleeing into the darkness when police arrived.