Friday, August 6, 2004

Machete assault case sent to trial

Prosecution argues Hunt used excessive force against Algiers

Express Staff Writer

Daniel D. Hunt

After nearly three months behind bars on $50,000 bail Daniel D. Hunt, 45, formerly of Jackson, Wyo., has been bound over to 5th District Court to stand trial on a charge of aggravated battery against a Ketchum resident who later that morning last spring was slain in a police standoff.

Hunt is accused of using excessive force May 16 in connection with a fight he had with Tom Algiers in the woods on the banks of the Big Wood River south of River Run Lodge.

Algiers, 46, was killed shortly before 3 a.m. May 16 after police re-sponded to a 911 call made by Hunt from the River Run Lodge at about 2 a.m. Hunt, 45, told police and Blaine County dispatcher Janet Hillman on the telephone that he had been attacked by Algiers and had defended him-self with a machete. Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said when Algiers was found in the dense woods, he refused to drop a knife he was carrying. Femling said Algiers cornered two county deputies. Deputy Curtis Miller then shot Algiers twice.

Deputy Attorney General Jay Rosenthal, stepping in for Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas, asked that an additional felony charge of aggra-vated assault be read into the record at a preliminary hearing held Tuesday, Aug. 3, in 5th District Magistrate Court in Hailey.

The investigation of the initial aggravated battery charge against Hunt was turned over to the Idaho Attorney General?s Office in late May due to a possible conflict of interest for Thomas because the events of May 16 re-sulted in Miller, a county employee, shooting Algiers.

The related police shooting is scheduled for a coroner?s inquest at the end of the month. Blaine County Coroner Russ Mikel turned the investiga-tion over to Ada County Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg. Rosenthal also is or-chestrating the legal proceedings of the county?s first such inquest.

Hillman was the first of eight witnesses called to the stand to testify at the hearing. A recording of the words exchanged between the dispatcher and Hunt in two separate calls was submitted as evidence.

?He stated that he was at the River Run Lodge ... he and his friend had been in a fight and he believes (Algiers) is dying,? Hillman said.

On tape Hunt sounded agitated as he requested an ambulance in the first call. Before he hung up the phone the first time on the tape he said, ?he just went bananas ... he attacked me ... tried to kill me.? On the tape Hunt sounded increasingly frustrated. Yelling and sounds of banging ended the first call.

Hunt immediately called back and repeated the call for help in a more aggressive tone but ended the call by thanking Hillman.

Hunt?s public defender, Stephan Thompson, agreed that blows had been delivered to Algiers in an apparent struggle, but he argued that Hunt had acted in self-defense.

There is no evidence to disprove Hunt?s allegations that Algiers tried to choke him, Thompson said.

Rosenthal did not try to refute the possibility that Hunt acted in self-defense and said that a jury must decide the argument. However, he said, whatever the motive, evidence shows that Hunt used excessive force.

?(It was) clearly an excessive use of force if a defensive use of force ... (Hunt) clearly did kick Mr. Algiers when he was down,? he said.

Arguments made by Thompson at the trial indicate that part of Hunt?s defense at trial will be that he was not read his Miranda Rights and that there is no evidence in the case that contradicts Hunt?s statements of self defense already in the record.

The witnesses called during the trial were asked to wait outside the courtroom until they were sworn in.

In addition to the audio-tape recording of 911 calls, evidence submitted in the preliminary hearing included a transcript of conversations recorded between Hunt and Sun Valley Police Office Mike Abaid and color photo-copies of digital photographs taken during an autopsy performed on Algiers.

Abaid had supervised Hunt during the initial investigation May 16 and decided to handcuff him, he said, for his own and Hunt?s safety. However, Hunt was not arrested until May 19.

Algiers body was taken May 16 to the Ada County Coroner, where fo-rensic pathologist Dr. Glen Groben performed the autopsy and examined Algiers? body for multiple blows made to the head with a machete and pos-sibly a kick, Groben said on the stand.

Groben placed a number of pictures on a board and explained to the court how machete strikes could have caused the apparent wounds to Al-giers head.

?When you have a sharp force injury, all the tissue is cut,? Groben said, showing wounds that included one where the skull had been chipped.

When Thompson suggested that Algiers could have choked Hunt from behind in a one-armed hammer lock around the neck, Groben said that he could not refute the possibility, but he doubted that Hunt could have gener-ated the force necessary to achieve the blows he examined during the autopsy. Groben said he could not deny that it was a possible scenario, however.

?(We) don?t know their positions absolutely,? he said.

In a parry of reenactments in the courtroom, first Thompson grabbed Hunt from behind and Hunt showed the court how he could have struck Algiers with a machete while being choked from behind.

Groben said that during his examination he reenacted the same clenched position exemplified by Hunt and Thompson in the courtroom but could not generate the forces necessary himself to inflict the injuries sustained by Algiers.

?I could not do it,? he said. ?The head is too close.?

Hunt seemed resigned to the decision read by Judge Michael Redman as the three-hour preliminary hearing wrapped up Tuesday.

In addition to Hillman, Groben and Abaid, the prosecution called to the stand Ketchum police officers Derrick Stewart and Sean Stevens, who met Hunt at River Run. Ketchum paramedic Chris Stephens was also called.

When asked if Stephens found any injuries indicating that Hunt had been choked during an examination in the River Run Parking Lot, Stephens said, no.

Thompson called deputies Curtis Miller and Dale Stocking to the stand and questioned them about their interactions with Hunt and had them de-scribe their final moments with Algiers leading up to the shooting. The only mention of Hunt during their testimony was that he called out to Algiers that the police were there to help him.

No discussion of bullets fired was permitted at the hearing due to the pending coroner?s inquest. Rosenthal made no move to question either of the county officers, but he did say that any testimony from the preliminary hearing could be used during the coming inquest into the police shooting.

Once Miller and Stocking found Algiers, both men said under oath that Algiers was uncooperative when asked to drop the knife they said he was carrying. Algiers said, ?Give me your guns,? repeatedly Miller said.

The officers told slightly different versions of the same scenario. Miller said Algiers was hunkered down in a crouched position, Stocking said he was sitting, but they both said Algiers stood and began to approach Miller

Under Thompson?s interrogation Stocking said Algiers neither asked for help nor complied with repeated orders to put down the knife.

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