Missing weapon is hole in state’s murder case

With no murder weapon, state prosecutor tries to fill gap in trial

Christopher Strawn, right, confers with criminal defense attorney Nicholas Polasky during his trial in Juneau Superior Court on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Strawn, 34, faces charges of first-degree and second-degree murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, third-degree assault and weapons misconduct in the shooting death of Brandon Cook in October 2015. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

As the state prepares to wrap up its case against Christopher Strawn, one big unanswered question lingers over the trial. If Strawn killed Brandon Cook on Oct. 20, 2015, where is the murder weapon?

 

On Tuesday in Dimond Courthouse, Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige laid the groundwork for a partial answer to that question as she called Juneau Police Department Detective Matthew Dubois to the witness stand.

Dubois was the third and final witness of the day, and he described how, when searching Strawn’s home two years ago, he found pieces of a shotgun buttstock.

Earlier in the trial, witness Tiffany Johnson told jurors she watched as Cook toppled over, dead, after a shotgun blast fired by Strawn. Johnson, who formerly sold firearms in the sporting goods department of Walmart, said Strawn held a shortened shotgun with a pistol-like grip.

Despite extensive searches by police and Troopers, that shotgun was never found.

This is Strawn’s second trial for the same alleged crime. The first trial, held earlier this year, ended with a mistrial when a witness mentioned domestic violence, a subject that Judge Philip Pallenberg had forbidden.

In that first trial, Paige attempted to link Strawn to a hypothetical murder weapon using the pieces of buttstock found in Strawn’s home. According to Paige, Strawn cut down a shotgun that was then used to kill Cook.

At the time, Strawn’s public defender, Yvette Soutiere, said there was a logical reason for those pieces: Strawn was a dumpster diver who frequently scavenged things he hoped to resell.

This time around, Strawn is representing himself at trial, and he has not yet offered jurors an explanation for why the pieces of shotgun buttstock were in his home. He did not finish cross-examining Dubois on Thursday; that process is expected to wrap up Friday.

Also Thursday, Strawn cross-examined JPD Sgt. Sterling Salisbury.

When Salisbury searched Strawn’s home, he found 12-gauge shotgun shells in Strawn’s home, the same caliber used to kill Cook.

As Strawn revealed through cross-examination, however, Salisbury also found several other calibers of ammunition, making the discovery of shotgun shells less unusual.

When the trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Strawn and Paige will argue about evidence and testimony scheduled to come from the former head of Alaska’s crime lab. More witnesses will be called Friday and Monday by the state, and it is possible that Strawn could begin presenting his defense by Tuesday.

Strawn’s trial began with jury selection Oct. 2. Opening arguments came on the afternoon of Oct. 5. The trial may wrap up by the end of next week.

Strawn is facing charges of first-degree and second-degree murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, third-degree assault and weapons misconduct.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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