The jury finds Powaukee guilty of involuntary manslaughter

By | December 21, 2023

December 21 – A jury found Jalene B. Powaukee guilty of involuntary manslaughter after nearly two hours of deliberation.

The three-day trial ended Wednesday at the Nez Perce County Courthouse. When the verdict was read, there were about forty people in the courtroom.

Jalene B. Powaukee, 41, of Lapwai, was indicted by a grand jury in June on charges of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly abandoning Desmond GL Oatman in a North Lewiston alley on March 18, 2022, where he later died of an overdose. . She will be sentenced on February 21.

Before the verdict was read, 2nd District Judge Mark Monson asked those in the courtroom to refrain from outbursts about the verdict. If anyone thought that would be difficult, Monson asked them to leave. No one left.

Powaukee stood and looked at the jury as the guilty verdict was read by Monson Clerk Brittany Davenport.

The indictment itself stated that Powaukee was guilty of involuntary manslaughter by dumping Oatman’s body in an alley, where an ordinary person would conclude that death might occur, and that the action was a reckless disregard for the consequences of her actions and the rights of others.

Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman and Chief Deputy Prosecutor April Smith argued that Powaukee caused Oatman’s death by leaving him in the alley while he overdosed. Powaukee’s public defender, Lawrence Moran, argued that Oatman was already dead when he was left in the alley.

There was no audible response from the courtroom, but family and friends of Oatman became emotional, wiping away tears and hugging each other. Powaukee looked down for a moment as she sat down at the table after the verdict was read.

Monson addressed the jury after the verdict, saying there was another matter for the jury to hear. It was to be decided, yes or no, whether Powaukee had previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance in 2021 and been convicted of forgery, a misdemeanor, in 2007. The questions were part of the sentencing options for Powaukee as a persistent offender, and should be decided by a jury, according to Coleman and Smith.

Smith provided the guilty verdict as evidence to the jury and Moran waived the argument for the defense. The jury reached a verdict after 15 minutes of deliberation affirming Powaukee’s previous felony convictions. The courtroom remained silent as most people stayed to hear the jury’s decision on the two questions. When the verdict was read, Powaukee was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and Monson adjourned the jury.

The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 15 years, but after the verdict, Powaukee could be sentenced as a persistent offender, meaning she faces a maximum of life in prison, Smith said. The questions for the jury had to come after the verdict of involuntary manslaughter. Otherwise it would be too damaging, Coleman said.

After the two verdicts were read, friends and family of Oatman thanked Coleman and Smith.

Coleman said he was “very pleased with the outcome” of the sentencing verdict.

He said the case involved a lot of work from many different agencies. During the trial, investigators from the Idaho State Police, the Nez Perce Tribal Police Department and the Lewiston Police Department testified. FBI work was also involved.

“This is the first step toward justice for Mr. Oatman,” Coleman said. “I hope this is the beginning of some measure of closure for the family.”

On the last day of the trial, the prosecutor called his last witness and then dropped the case.

Dr. Makinzie Mott, the deputy medical examiner with the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified about Oatman’s autopsy and cause of death and answered questions from both attorneys about the death. As she testified, photos from the autopsy were shown to the jury. Members of Oatman’s friends and family became emotional and some left the courtroom when the photos were shown.

Mott performed the autopsy and noted that Oatman had abrasions and bruises on his torso and extremities, including one near his upper left chest. She testified that some of the injuries, including the abrasion on his upper left chest and on his back, occurred while his heart was still beating, although he could not give an exact time. Coleman asked if the abrasions on his back were consistent with him being dragged over a rough surface, and Mott said they were.

Mott testified that Oatman died from the combined toxic effects of methamphetamine, fentanyl and alcohol.

“In layman’s terms, this is an overdose,” Mott said.

Mott said Oatman’s lungs were full of blood and fluid and his brain was swollen from the effects of the drugs. Despite all the swelling, Coleman asked Mott how long it took for Oatman to die. Mott said she didn’t have a specific time frame, but “This was not an instant death.”

Coleman asked Mott about rigor mortis, the stiffness of muscles after death. Mott said rigor mortis occurs at different times depending on the characteristics of the person and the environment, but typically it can be 30 minutes to a few hours after the time of death.

During cross-examination, Moran asked Mott if she knew when Oatman died and she said she could not determine.

Moran asked about other effects of the body after death, including coloration and temperature. Mott said that in Oatman’s case, the characteristics of the person and the environment would not have much influence on the occurrence of rigor mortis. The cooling of the body after death is also difficult to predict, but usually the limbs cool before the torso.

Moran asked Mott how long an overdose can last and she said it is difficult to determine, but it could last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. It is also difficult to estimate when the overdose begins after the drug has been taken. She said she did not know when Oatman ingested the substances that caused his overdose, or when he began to overdose.

Mott also confirmed to Moran that given the injuries to the body, she could not say exactly when or how they occurred. She testified that Oatman did not die from exposure, but from an overdose.

After Mott’s testimony, the state rested and the defense began its argument by asking for Monson’s acquittal outside the presence of a jury. Moran said the state had not proven that Oatman died because Powaukee left him in the alley and that he was not alive when he was abandoned. Smith argued that there was enough evidence to present the case to the jury, citing testimony from Mott and other witnesses that Oatman was alive when he was abandoned by Powaukee. Monson allowed the matter to proceed.

After the request for acquittal was rejected, the defense rested and called no more witnesses. Monson also discussed Powaukee’s rights when she decided not to testify, based on advice from Moran.

Attorneys for the prosecution and defense made closing arguments for about an hour. One juror was randomly selected to leave and compose the final twelve-member jury of ten men and two women.

In his closing arguments, Moran asked the jury to answer the special question on the verdict form about Powaukee’s culpability in killing Oatman by leaving him in an alley.

“That’s the only question you have to answer today,” Moran said.

He told jurors to make their decision based on the evidence and testimony presented, and not on personal feelings about Powaukee or what they might have done in the same situation.

Moran said none of the witnesses saw Powaukee kill Oatman and no one could tell he was alive when he was left in the alley. The time of death was also uncertain and the cause of death was determined to be an overdose. He said if the jury couldn’t find beyond a reasonable doubt that he was alive when he was left in the alley, they should return a not guilty verdict.

“If he was dead when he was removed from the vehicle, there was no way Jalene Powaukee could have killed him by leaving him in the alley. He was already dead,” Moran said.

Coleman gave his closing arguments and a rebuttal argument following Moran’s statements. He also played the video of Powaukee driving Oatman through the alley before leaving him in the alley. Coleman said Oatman is seen alive and upright in the vehicle and then slumped over two minutes later when left in the alley.

Coleman outlined the evidence and witness statements, as well as the timeline of what happened. He also repeated Mott’s testimony about her evidence showing that he was alive and that his death was long and protracted because he overdosed.

Coleman said Powaukee knew Oatman was dying and needed help, but he did not call 911 or anyone else for help. He highlighted the actions of Larry Boyd, the owner of the Lightning Horse Bar and Grill where he was found, and the first responders who arrived, all of whom tried to help him and revive him.

“Desmond could have easily been saved,” Coleman said. ‘An ordinary person wouldn’t have left him there to die’

Coleman said Powaukee’s actions were not reasonable and that she behaved recklessly and that those decisions and actions caused Oatman’s death. Coleman said Oatman was 25 years old and had children. He said he still had his life ahead of him. But instead of Powaukee helping him, Coleman said she went to the casino and was seen gambling and drinking.

“The biggest gamble (she made) was that she wouldn’t get caught for what she did,” Coleman said.

Brewster can be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *