Easter trial: Was man’s hand on golf club before his death?

Published 7:59 am Tuesday, April 11, 2017

By Sam Wilmes and Sarah Stultz, Albert Lea Tribune

ALBERT LEA — A Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientist testified Monday that the hand of a Freeborn County man who was shot and killed last August could have been on or near a golf club at the time of his death during the murder trial of a Brownsdale man.

The testimony came in the trial of David Michael Easter, 27, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Spencer Daniel Brown, 23, of rural Freeborn County. Easter is claiming self-defense in Brown’s death, and reportedly told police that he was threatened by a man with a bat. No bat was ultimately found at the scene.

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When asked by public defender Adrianne McMahon whether it was likely that Brown’s hand could have been on or near the golf club at the time of his death, forensic scientist Joe Cooksley said: “I would say it was a possibility.”

Cooksley, who was called to the scene early in the morning of Aug. 24, confirmed that the back of Brown’s hand was resting on the golf club after his death the night before.

McMahon showed a couple of pictures to the jury of the back of Brown’s hand resting on the golf club.

Speaking of Brown’s hand, Cooksley could not say where it was at the time of his death. He said: “Because it is mobile, it could be in a number of positions.

“It’s a possibility the staining occurred in the situation or similar situation as shown in the photos.”

According to Cooksley, he could not tell whether Brown’s hand could have operated the vehicle’s shifter.

Freeborn County Attorney David Walker noted that in another picture, the back of Brown’s hand was not resting on the golf club.

Cooksley testified that the bottom of Brown’s hand was not exposed to the blood, and the back of his hand was facing away from the origin of the blood spatter.

Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ryan Shea, who led the investigation, said in addition to the golf club found in the front seat, authorities found a second golf club in the hatch of Brown’s 2001 Audi station wagon. The investigation found that neither the hood nor the door to the hatch would stay up on their own.

Photos of vehicle shown to jury

Photos taken by the BCA early in the morning of Aug. 24 at the scene that showed blood inside the station wagon were shown to the jury.

“It was a gravel parking lot,” Cooksley said. “It was pretty wet and damp.”

Cooksley remembered rear tail lights on the station wagon were activated when he arrived.

The vehicle was locked when it was found in the east side of the parking lot near Big Island pavilion.

Walker showed pictures to the jury from various angles of the station wagon and close images of two cartridge cases that were found near the car.

Photos of Brown’s body and extensive bloodstains on the inside of the vehicle — including on the armrest, steering wheel, emergency brake, Brown’s hand, the passenger seat and other parts of the vehicle — were shown to the jury.

“There were apparent bloodstains on the door,” Cooksley said.

According to Cooksley, bloodstains were only on the inner part of the door — meaning the door was shut when Brown was shot. He said bloodstain patterns indicated the shots came from the driver’s side of the vehicle.

Brown was not wearing his seatbelt, and a Bic lighter was found on his lap, Shea said.

Brown’s windows allowed for only 16 percent of light into the car. Shea said it would be difficult for even a flashlight to shine through.

Walker showed video of items taken from the station wagon after it was transported to the Freeborn County Adult Detention Center later in the morning of Aug. 24. Additional photos showing bloodstains in the vehicle while it was in the garage were also shown, along with casings and the firearm used in the shooting — previously identified as a .45-caliber pistol.

According to Cooksley, there was no evidence the vehicle’s gear shifter or emergency brake were blocked, and Shea testified they were in working order.

Officials have said there was heavy rain when they arrived at the state park and there was no lights in the parking lot other than when they showed their spotlights and squad car lights.

Shea said there was no evidence of a struggle in the gravel near the station wagon, and tire tracks underneath of the front tires showed that the vehicle pulled into the parking spot and hadn’t left from there.

He said a Blackberry phone that belonged to Brown was found covered in blood behind the driver’s seat of his car on the rear floorboard. Shea obtained a search warrant from Sprint to obtain phone records and found that Brown received or sent 11 text messages from 8:37 to 9:17 p.m. the night of his death. The last text Brown sent was at 9:05 p.m., Shea said. He received two messages after that.

Easter called 911 to report he had shot Brown right before 9:16 p.m., and the call lasted until about 9:22 p.m. when authorities arrived.

A forensic search of both Easter’s and his wife’s phones found that both had not made any phone calls for a few hours prior to the shooting. A call had not been placed on Easter’s phone since about 3:30 p.m.

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Detective Dave Schafer said during a search of the Easters’ truck he found a 700 lumen Coleman flashlight and a .45-caliber bullet on the floor of the truck.

There were also some items typically used for camping, including firewood and a cooler.