No Justice for Jack Yantis: The "Smoking Gun" is a Bloody Bullet

“Perhaps you can account also for the bullet which has so obviously hit the window?”

“By George! How ever did you see that?”

“Because I looked for it.”

Sherlock Holmes chides the indifferently attentive Inspector Martin of the Norfolk Constabulary, in “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.”

Critical evidence will sometimes evade the notice of an inattentive or inept investigator because he is not looking for it. When that evidence has been found, documented, and then ignored by the investigator, something worse than incompetence – most likely malice or corruption — is at work. This is true of what Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden calls “the most critical piece of physical evidence” in the officer inflicted homicide of Jack Yantis, a rancher from Council who was slaughtered by two Adams County sheriff’s deputies last November 1.

That crucial piece of evidence was a “spent shell casing” in Yantis’s rifle, along with what was described as a .20 caliber bullet found in the middle of the scene.

Yantis was summoned to that scene by the Sheriff’s Dispatcher after Deputies Brian Wood and Cody Roland were unable to euthanize one of his bulls, which had been struck by a vehicle on Highway 95. Five minutes after Yantis arrived and attempted to dispatch the wounded animal, he was cut down in a frantic fusillade after one of the deputies, most likely Roland, panicked and opened fire. Wood instantly joined in, although in his initial interview with the Idaho State Police three days later he could not clearly articulate why.

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“Sixteen (16) spent .223 shell casings and four (4) spent .45 shell casings were recovered at the scene,” Wasden summarizes. “These casings indicate that twenty (20) shots were fired by the officers.” The twenty-first round “could have come from Jack’s .204, [but] the FBI expert who tested the bullet will not testify to that fact conclusively,” Wasden continues. “There is no solid explanation as to how that bullet if fired from Jack’s gun, came to rest in the middle of the scene.”

This is a monumental understatement, given that it is a fair approximation of an impossibility that the round could have wound up where it was if it had been fired by Yantis – especially when it’s understood that the bullet contained traces of Yantis’s blood. This was known no later than January 4th of this year when the ISP’s Forensics department positively identified Jack Yantis as “the source of the blood on this item” – the “item” in question being a “deformed rifle bullet”that had been collected on the scene, but not accounted for.

The presence of a spent shell casing in Yantis’s bolt-action rifle means that he had fired the weapon at some point prior to being shot, not that he fired a shot at the deputies. The fact that his blood was found on the “deformed rifle bullet” means that the deputies fired all twenty-one rounds that have been accounted for.

Wasden knew this, or at least he had no excuse not to know it. He likewise either knew or certainly should have known, that this destroys the official claim that Yantis precipitated a “gunfight” by firing on the deputies, who returned fire in self-defense.

The balance of probabilities suggests that Yantis arrived on the scene with a rifle that hadn’t been cleared since its previous use, and that the deputies (to borrow Wasden’s language in describing a possibility he dismissed) “fired in a fit of recklessness.” This would certainly fit the definition of  manslaughter – an unlawful killing committed “without due caution and circumspection….”

According to both deputies’ accounts, as Yantis had lined up a kill-shot on the bull, Wood approached him and tried to prevent him from pulling the trigger, ostensibly out of concern that a shot would imperil EMTs and other responders on the scene. Both Roland and Wood initially claimed that Yantis pointed his bolt-action rifle in the direction of Roland and fired a shot at the deputy.

“When that shot happened and I started shooting and then I – I assumed he had shot at Cody and I didn’t know if Cody was hit or not,”Wood stammered during his November 4 interview. After opening fire, Wood continued, “I had somehow time in that moment to go, `Oh if that wasn’t him shooting.’ I know he threatened him. He shoved it [the rifle] out at him. If that wasn’t him shooting, there’s still around in that gun….”

Roland’s story was that Wood had reached out toward Yantis and that the small, slender 62-year-old man, who was practically crippled, somehow shoved the much younger, much larger deputy and left him off-balance. Both deputies have repeatedly denied that either of them ever touched Yantis’s rifle.

That was not Roland’s original story, however.

In the report of his November 3 interview with Roland, ISP Detective Jason Horst recorded that “As soon asWood lost control of Yantis’ loaded gun, [Roland] reached down to try to un-holster his pistol.” (Emphasis added.) What this means is that at some point, Wood had control of the weapon, at least according to the other deputy. Roland went on to claim that Yantis turned the rifle in his direction, and that there was an “almost simultaneous” discharge of his pistol and Yantis’s rifle.

“He remembered the blast of the rifle and for lack of a better term, it rung [sic] his bell,” narrates Horst.

As noted above, there is no physical evidence to corroborate Roland’s claim that Yantis fired his rifle. An eyewitness named Tamara Sue Evanow (see page 236 of the Attorney General’s comprehensive file on the case) told ISP investigators that Yantis never pointed his rifle at either deputy. While Roland and Wood have claimed that Yantis was angry and aggressive, in Evanow’s account the rancher was composed and focused. The deputies, by way of contrast, were flustered and panicking.

“She was looking out her mirror and she saw the guy with the gun (Yantis) point down at the bull, then put his hand over up to his forehead like he had wiped it,” recites the ISP report. “There were also officers present. She thought he couldn’t do it and then heard someone yell `shoot that thing’ and just kept screaming at him (Yantis), `Shoot that thing.’… While still looking in her mirror, she saw the man (Yantis) turn to face whoever was yelling at him. She did not know who was yelling because there was a police car parked right behind her which obstructed her view. When she turned, the gun was still pointing toward the animal. She then heard approximately 4 to 5 gunshots.”

After the shooting began, Evanow’s husband grabbed her by the head and pulled her down. When she looked up again, she saw the deputies “throw a man to the ground, with a knee in the back….” Since this happened within seconds of the shooting, the prone figure had to have been the mortally wounded Yantis.

In every officer-involved fatal shooting, as I have noted before, the dead person is identified as the “suspect,” and the killer or killers will be designated as the victim(s). This means that every investigation of an incident of this kind is inevitably designed to build a case against the decedent, rather than to determine whether the shooters committed a criminal act.

All that is necessary to indict a suspect is for a prosecutor – or a grand jury – to decide that probable cause exists that a criminal act was committed. When police officers commit an act of homicide, however, the district attorney (or, in this case, a special prosecutor) will, in effect, try the case in a non-adversarial proceeding – and dismiss it without an indictment if he concludes that the charges cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The only important witnesses to the Yantis shooting, Wasden pretends, are Yantis’s wife, Donna; his nephew, Rowdy Paradis; and the two perpetrators, deputies Roland and Wood.

“The ultimate question is whether, when weighing these contradictory accounts, a jury would have a reasonable doubt as to whether the officers’ use of deadly force was not `reasonably necessary,’” Wasden intones. He insists that a “capable defense attorney would highlight the basis for doubt by contrasting the observations of Rowdy and Donna with those of Wood and Roland.”

Yes, the job of a defense attorney is to force the state to prove the charges against the defendants – a task for which Wasden clearly had no appetite. If he had, he would have underscored the contradictions in the accounts (such as Roland’s original admission that Wood at one point controlled Yantis’s rifle) offered by the shooters, and the absence of physical evidence supporting the claim that Yantis had fired his rifle at the scene. He would also point out that at least three witnesses not involved in the shooting contradict key claims made by the men who killed Yantis.

For Wasden, however, the only evidence that ultimately mattered was self-serving, and self-contradictory, stories told by the privileged predators who killed the man they had summoned to carry out a dangerous task that was beyond their competence.

“While the officers’ stories are not identical with each other in every detail, there is sufficient consistency between them to create, at a minimum, reasonable doubt regarding whether their actions were not justified,” declares Wasden in the written equivalent of a “sucks to be you” shrug. Once again, in any fatal shooting carried out by people not invested with Blue Privilege, the applicable threshold for an indictment would be probable cause, not proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Wasden and his underlings have certainly displayed a willingness to indict Mundanes on the flimsiest of pretexts.

A decade ago, Wasden’s office filed a felony criminal complaint against Carol Asher, a 66-year-old retired schoolteacher, accusing her of “perjury” because she had the temerity to act as a conscientious juror in a spurious and abusive drug prosecution.

The only “evidence” sustaining that indictment was the unsupported claim of the jury foreman. That state-worshiping invertebrate who violated the confidentiality of jury deliberations to tell the aggrieved prosecutor that Asher had stated, correctly, that jurors have plenary authority to try both the facts and the law of a case, and that the judge’s rulings regarding the applicable law are advisory, rather than authoritative.

If she had been convicted of perjury, Asher would have faced a 14-year prison sentence. The alacrity with which Wasden’s office sought an indictment against her – for the supposed offense of telling fellow jurors to examine the prosecution’s evidence critically —  offers a telling contrast to the enervating, tax-devouring nine-month exercise in contriving “reasonable doubt” on behalf of two deputies who gunned down an innocent man without legal justification.

Sometimes an investigator will miss critical evidence because he doesn’t know where to look for it. Wasden had the most important evidence in his possession – a proverbial smoking gun in the form of a bloody bullet – and deliberately chose to ignore it, and his office continues to misdirect public attention away from it. This is culpable malfeasance in the service of murderous impunity.