Renfro judge nixes extension of murder trial

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(LOREN BENOIT/Hagadone News Network) Jonathan Renfro, center, enters the courtroom, at the Kootenai County Courthouse on Wednesday. He is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore on May 5, 2015.

COEUR d’ALENE — The presiding judge in the Jonathan D. Renfro murder trial will not permit proceedings to drag into next week despite a number of rebuttal witnesses, including some from out of state, who are still waiting to testify.

First District Judge Lansing Haynes said Wednesday he and attorneys must discuss which witnesses to call and which ones to scratch in an effort to accelerate proceedings, which Haynes said must end this week.

The extension is an about-face from earlier acknowledgments that the last phase of the trial — in which the jury hears evidence to determine if Renfro should be sentenced to death for the May 5, 2015, killing of Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore — will end by midweek.

Haynes told the jury after a break in testimony Wednesday that they will likely stay later today, and can expect the case to conclude Friday when they will be called on to render the final verdict.

Before the jury was allowed into the courtroom Wednesday morning, attorneys fenced over evidence as they had earlier in the week.

Defense attorney Jay Logsdon accused prosecutors of turning over evidence hours before an expert witness for the state was scheduled to use it to rebut the testimony of Logsdon’s defense witness.

Logsdon said he found the state’s 98-page PowerPoint presentation in his email folder when he woke up Wednesday morning, leaving scant time to prepare a counter attack.

The same claim was made by prosecutors Monday, who said a 60-plus page PowerPoint presentation was mailed to them Sunday afternoon, less than a day before Monday’s proceedings, whiffed of ambush tactics.

“Isn’t it ironic?” Logsdon said. “There’s no way we can get ready for this … It’s a little odd.”

Haynes however allowed the PowerPoint slides to be used in court, admonishing both parties for their last-minute submissions of evidence.

“This has been the situation throughout this trial and leading up to this trial, late-disclosed evidence by everybody,” Haynes said. “There has been late-disclosed expert testimony throughout this proceeding.”

Dismissing the evidence leaves jurors without relevant testimony to draw from when making important decisions, the judge said.

“And it has created problems for both sides,” Haynes said. “The same thing seems to be true here.”

Haynes said he did not have an opportunity — nor did he have the time — to peruse the 98-page PowerPoint presentation before making a decision to allow it as evidence.

At the same time, Haynes quashed a request by prosecutors to use an expert to discuss Renfro’s prison gang affiliation, and to disparage inmates who testified on Renfro’s behalf.

Defense attorneys called the state’s request a smear campaign.

“It is not a rebuttal of anything,” Keith Roark said. “This is nothing but character assassination.”

Haynes agreed that the request to tell jurors that the inmates likely had Aryan gang ties, and that their reported gang affiliation suggested they lie for each other, was too prejudicial.

“They are in prison for having committed atrocious offenses,” Haynes said. “That’s already evidence by which the jury can weigh their credibility without this highly inflammatory evidence.”

For the rest of the morning, and into the afternoon Wednesday, a state-paid expert explained to jurors, with the aid of the 98-page PowerPoint presentation, that Renfro’s brain was normal, and did not display signs of traumatic brain injury. Dr. Alan Waxman, head of nuclear medicine and radiology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, called into doubt earlier testimony by defense experts regarding the defendant’s brain scans.

Waxman clicked between a series — hundreds — of brain images including Renfro’s, comparing them and pointing out abnormalities. Renfro’s brain however, showed no abnormalities, Waxman said.

Therefore putative traumatic brain juries cannot be blamed for Renfro’s irresponsible and impulsive actions, according to the state.

“You can’t have a more normal frontal lobe than this,” Waxman said. “The temporal lobes are perfect … it just doesn’t get any better than this.”

He refuted earlier testimony by Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital who testified for the defense, that Renfro displayed brain disorders.

Waxman wondered why Newberg, a qualified scientist, used the methods he had, since they seemed tailored to show abnormalities where there were none.

“That’s absurd,” he said. “That’s not scientific.”

The day’s final testimony was given by state prison warden Alberto Ramirez, who said the defendant, if he were to return to prison for a life sentence or on death row, would likely be placed in high security for the safety of staff and inmates.

Based on his prior prison and jail record, Ramirez said Renfro falls into a category of violent inmates, which make up about 185 out of a prison population of close to 8,000.

Roark questioned the warden’s assessment.

Didn’t the state prison system pride itself in rehabilitation? Roark asked. And isn’t it possible Renfro’s status could be downgraded?

The warden agreed.

And didn’t inmates mellow with age? Roark asked.

“They tend to be less violent, yes sir.” Ramirez said.

Testimony resumes today at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 1 of the old Kootenai County courthouse.

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