Aug. 26—A jury found James R. Brashear guilty of voluntary manslaughter Friday afternoon after eight hours of deliberation.
Brashear, 69, of Winchester, had been charged with first-degree murder, but the jury opted to find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Members of the jury had a series of convictions to choose from as part of their jury instructions, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Brashear shot and killed 40-year-old John Mast, of Williston, N.D., on Feb. 5, 2021, in the Rosauers parking lot in Lewiston. Mast is Brashear’s ex-son-in-law and was in a custody dispute for his children, Brashear’s grandchildren. Mast was accused, but never charged, with abusing the children.
About 40 people were in the courtroom at the Nez Perce County Courthouse when the verdict was read. Second District Judge Mark Monson’s clerk, Brittany Davenport, read the verdict out loud as Brashear stood and faced the jury with his defense attorney Chris Bugbee.
Davenport first read that Brashear was found not guilty of first-degree murder and then that he was found not guilty of second-degree murder. Then she read that the jury found Brashear guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
The courtroom was silent as Davenport read through the jury’s decisions. Before the verdict was read Monson advised those in the courtroom to refrain from emotional outbursts.
“This is an emotional case,” Monson said. “That is clear from the evidence as I have heard it.”
Monson also said it was an important case to all parties and out of respect for those involved there would be no toleration of disruptions or disrespect and, if there were, the person would be asked to leave the courtroom.
“If you don’t think you can comply with my order I’m going to ask you to leave the courtroom right now,” Monson said.
He then gave a few moments for people to consider what he said, but no one left and the jury was brought in.
The jury began deliberations at about 12:50 p.m. Thursday and continued until around 5 p.m., then decided to start again at 9 a.m. Friday. On Friday morning, jurors entered and were counted. Monson told them to take all the time they needed to reach a decision and the jurors returned to the jury room to continue deliberations. A verdict was reached at around 12:50 p.m. Friday.
After the verdict was read, the defense had the jury polled and every juror was asked if they agree with the decision. All said yes. The 12-member jury consisted of 11 men and one woman. The jurors were excused by 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Monson scheduled Brashear to be sentenced Nov. 17 and a presentencing investigation to be completed by Nov. 1.
The maximum penalty for voluntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison as well as a $15,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the initial charge of first-degree murder is life in prison.
Bugbee thanked the jury for their hard work in an email to the Tribune. He also shook hands with the prosecutors in the courtroom at the conclusion of the trial.
In the statement to the Tribune, Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman noted his reaction to the jury’s decision.
“I’m disappointed in this verdict. It’s hard to accept manslaughter when the defendant told police on camera the murder was ‘premeditated’,” Coleman said. “He weighed out his options before shooting John Mast, and admitted to continuing to shoot while John ran away to ‘drop him like a bad habit.'”
Coleman said in a message to the Tribune that over the last two years law enforcement, witnesses and staff from the Nez Perce County Prosecutor’s Office worked hard to put the case together.
“Thank you to everyone who put in those long hours,” Coleman wrote. “To the victim’s family, thank you for remaining strong throughout this process and standing by John the entire way.”
Even though Brashear admitted to the shooting, he had pleaded not guilty. The prosecution argued the shooting was first-degree murder and the defense claimed Brashear was guilty of a lesser crime. The distinction between the convictions rested on whether the jury concluded the murder was premeditated with malice aforethought, requiring a conviction of first-degree murder, or an emotional reaction by Brashear, requiring a conviction of voluntary manslaughter.
The premeditation consideration for the jury includes a period of time when a decision was reflected on before it was made. Malice aforethought is an intentional act that causes harm, but doesn’t require the passage of time, according to the jury instruction Monson went over with the jury on the last day of the trial.
Prospective jurors last week answered a questionnaire and were called in Aug. 18 and Monday. The 14-member jury was selected Monday afternoon. The selection process took two days partly because the parking lot at the courthouse was restricted because of construction.
A metal detector was also placed outside the courtroom during the trial. Deputies from the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office used wands on people entering the courtroom and bags were searched.
The trial began Tuesday with opening statements from the prosecution and defense.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor April Smith told jurors in her opening statement that the evidence will show that Brashear planned the murder to “assassinate” Mast and prevent him from seeing his children for an unsupervised weekend visit. Bugbee’s opening statement told the jury that Brashear was acting emotionally and the shooting didn’t include premeditation or malice aforethought.
The prosecution called nine witnesses the first day of the trial, including Mast’s siblings, who saw Mast get shot and kept him calm before he was taken by medics. They later went to the hospital, where they found out he had died. The jury also heard testimony from the dispatcher that took the call about the shooting and heard the recordings.
Many of the first responders to the scene testified, including medics and law enforcement. Officers who spoke with Brashear after the shooting noted his calm demeanor and his matter-of-fact tone when explaining the shooting. The prosecution also showed video footage of the shooting from Rosauers’ surveillance and a dash camera from one of the shoppers.
On the second day of the trial the prosecution rested, calling four witnesses including more law enforcement who’d arrived on scene and investigated the case, and the medical examiner, who said that Mast’s death was the result of a combined effect from three gunshot wounds.
However, most of the proceedings on the second day were from the testimony of Brashear, who took the stand in his defense. Brashear described the day of the shooting as a “rollercoaster” of emotions when he and his daughter, Rebecca Brashear-Mast, found out about an unsupervised weekend visit his grandchildren were to have with Mast. Brashear and Brashear-Mast made several attempts to stop the visit, but were unsuccessful.
His testimony was objected to by Coleman when he tried to tell the jury what one of the children said to him. That type of testimony is hearsay and can’t be used as evidence in court. It resulted in a 30-minute recess as Monson, Brashear and the attorneys met in chambers. Monson later told the jury to disregard those statements and Brashear continued his testimony.
Brashear also told the jury about the shooting, but said he doesn’t remember the shooting itself or when he decided to shoot Mast, but he knows that he did. He testified he didn’t premeditate the murder, but Coleman asked a series of questions about the shooting — asking if he went to Rosauers and shot Mast — and Brashear said yes. However, when Coleman asked about statements to the police, Brashear said he didn’t recall telling the police he thought about killing Mast.
Brashear at times became emotional on the stand talking about the day and his grandchildren’s reaction to the visit with their father. Bugbee highlighted Brashear’s emotional state in other testimony from Brashear-Mast and Robin Brashear as well as others who saw Brashear on the day of the shooting.
On the third and final day, the defense rested its case with one more witness who spoke about Brashear’s emotional state. The prosecution had rebuttal witnesses with an investigator in the murder sharing text messages from Brashear and Brashear-Mast about a court-ordered visit the night before the shooting. However, Bugbee had Brashear-Mast testify again saying the order was an ongoing arrangement that was still being negotiated and the unsupervised visit was not expected. Robin Brashear also testified again, saying that she didn’t know Brashear had shot Mast or that he was planning to.
In closing statements, Coleman told the jury that the murder was premeditated based on statements Brashear made to law enforcement immediately after the shooting. He played body camera footage of Brashear telling police the murder was premediated.
Bugbee’s closing statement made the argument that the murder wasn’t premeditated and instead was the result of Brashear’s emotional state, which fit the description of the voluntary manslaughter conviction. He said that Brashear’s testimony on the stand, stating that he didn’t remember the shootings, shows that it wasn’t premeditated and there was no malice aforethought.
The trial was scheduled to last seven days, but actually lasted only three.
Brewster may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2297.