During the December trial of a man accused of assaulting a state trooper, Pennington County prosecutors will present a dashcam video that was recorded during the 2015 incident.
Deputy State’s Attorney Josh Hendrickson told the court Wednesday the video will show that Trooper Zachary Bader stopped the vehicle carrying defendant Donald Willingham because of a speeding violation on Interstate 90 in Pennington County.
The video will show also that Bader asked the driver if he could search the Chevrolet Suburban after catching the scent of marijuana, Hendrickson said. The SUV had four occupants, including Willingham, who was seated in the back.
Investigators said that during the traffic stop on Oct. 24, 2015, Willingham beat up Bader, who lost consciousness and suffered serious injuries, including multiple facial fractures.
Willingham, 35, of Renton, Wash., is preparing for trial Dec. 18-21 on charges of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault on a law-enforcement officer, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana and commission of a felony with a firearm.
His lead defense attorney, Dennis Doherty, didn’t object to Bader’s dashcam video being shown to the jury.
But Doherty told 7th Circuit Judge Wally Eklund he objected to presenting portions of the audio in which someone off-camera could be heard groaning in pain and multiple people who stopped at the scene talked about what they believe happened.
“These specific utterances are prejudicial due to their gruesome countenance,” Doherty told the court in writing. “Coupled with their hearsay aspects, the prejudicial aspect of these audio assertions outweighs the probative value thereof.”
Hendrickson said the prosecution will “absolutely seek to introduce to the jury” the sounds of pain, believed to be coming from Bader. Hendrickson will submit a written response next week before Eklund makes a ruling on the issue.
Willingham’s three companions during the incident pleaded guilty last year to possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and being an accessory to a crime.
Fellow Washington residents Jonathan Melendez, Chase Sukert and Desiree Sukert made the admissions as part of a deal with prosecutors, in which they agreed to testify against Willingham. They are scheduled for sentencing once Willingham’s trial ends. All are out on bond.
The lawyers agreed to exclude a statement from Desiree Sukert, 28, Willingham’s former live-in girlfriend, accusing him of domestic violence because it was a side issue. After entering into a plea deal with prosecutors, Doherty said, Desiree Sukert told police she didn’t report the trooper assault because she feared being hurt by Willingham.
Doherty said this contradicts her prior statement to investigators that Willingham never physically abused her.
The court intends to call at least 120 prospective jurors and will seat two alternates.
Willingham’s most serious charges — attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and the firearm offense — are each punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The marijuana charges each carry a maximum of 15 years.
He is detained at the Pennington County Jail in lieu of $5 million bail. Bader, meanwhile, returned to work a year ago.