A man who accused his wife of firing a gun during an argument two years ago took the stand in Gunnison County Court last week in what became tension-filled testimony over the incident.
David Jackson — who currently faces charges himself in the death of his brother-in-law — repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to refrain from answering attorneys’ questions. And he was repeatedly instructed by Judge Ashley Burgemeister to answer the question at hand.
The Fifth Amendment allows a witness to decline to answer queries in which the response may incriminate him.
“There’s nothing about that question that has to do with a violation of the law or the charges against him,” argued public defender Daniel Lavrisha in response to Jackson declining to answer whether he merely recalled the incident that gave rise to the charges against his wife, Stephanie Jackson, 33.
The preliminary hearing — a court proceeding to determine whether enough evidence exists in the case for it to advance to trial — was devoted to a menacing and reckless endangerment case against Stephanie Jackson. It marked the latest turn in a saga in which she, her mother and husband are accused of numerous crimes surrounding the murder of her brother, Jake Millison.
In the weeks after Stephanie Jackson’s arrest for first-degree murder and other charges, the additional counts were levied — based upon an interview with her husband during the investigation into the murder of Millison, whose body was found last July at the family’s ranch near Parlin, east of Gunnison.
‘He said he was terrified’
While family members initially claimed that Millison left the ranch abruptly in early 2015, an investigation led authorities to his remains, buried under a horse corral, with a single gunshot wound to his head.
Millson’s mother, Deborah Rudibaugh, 68, was subsequently arrested, accused of first-degree murder after deliberation. Stephanie Jackson is charged with first-degree murder and accessory to murder. David Jackson, 34, also is charged with accessory to murder, and all three are accused of tampering with a deceased human body, concealing death and other crimes.
Rudibaugh and the Jacksons are currently detained in Gunnison County jail.
But the charges for which Stephanie Jackson appeared last Thursday stem from an account told to Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by David Jackson in which his wife allegedly fired a round from a pistol during an argument in early 2016.
CBI agent Jack Haynes testified Thursday that David Jackson told authorities Jan. 25 of this year that he and his wife were having a dispute at the family’s ranch, and the man was packing his belongings at a desk when Stephanie Jackson approached her husband’s right side.
“In the process a gun goes off,” said Haynes. “He said he was terrified.”
Subsequently, CBI obtained and served a search warrant at the ranch. A bullet hole was found in the floor as well as a fragment of the projectile in the rocks below the building.
However, the hearing came to a momentary halt when Stephanie Jackson’s attorney called David Jackson to the stand to testify. Deputy District Attorney Jessica Waggoner objected, since David Jackson is the alleged victim in the domestic violence case.
Judge Burgemeister allowed for David Jackson to take the stand, so long as his attorney was present. Following a 45-minute recess for Jackson’s attorney, Andrew Allen, to arrive from Crested Butte, David Jackson entered the courtroom in shackles.
Through the course of testimony, Stephanie Jackson avoided eye contact with her husband, who ultimately recounted much of the story told earlier in the hearing by Haynes. Jackson said he heard a gun discharge a few feet from him but never actually saw the weapon.
David Jackson said he left the room immediately. “I’m pretty sure I was a little scared,” he said.
However, the man’s testimony appeared to fly in the face of the charges levied by prosecutors. When asked why he didn’t report the incident to authorities when it occurred, Jackson said, “I didn’t feel it was necessary … because it was an accident.”
Additionally, he said he didn’t “fully believe” that his wife would kill him.
In Colorado, menacing occurs when a person, through threat or physical action, knowingly places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
‘What part of that is an accident?’
At one point, Judge Burgemeister cautioned prosecutor Waggoner against an “aggressive” line of questioning directed at David Jackson, who reportedly texted a friend after the incident that his wife nearly shot him.
“What part of that is an accident?” Waggoner posed, to which Jackson again invoked the Fifth Amendment.
“I don’t think we even need the answer on that,” she said.
However, defense attorney Lavrisha argued that Stephanie Jackson did not make threats prior to the discharge of the weapon, and did not “knowingly” place her husband in fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
“He had no fear prior to the gun going off because he didn’t know it was there,” Lavrisha argued.
Yet, Waggoner countered that David Jackson’s actions following the gun’s firing met the necessary burden of proof.
“How we know that she put him in danger of imminent serious bodily injury is that he took off and ran,” she argued.
Judge Burgemeister plans to rule on whether menacing case will be bound over to District Court on May 10.
David Jackson is due to appear in court for charges against him on May 15. Due to the large amount of discovery — or evidence — in the murder case, Stephanie Jackson’s next appearance for those allegations is set for July 13, the same day as Rudibaugh’s next court date.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at email@example.com.)