St. Dennis Trial Returns Guilty Verdict. Some Thoughts.

by jhwygirl

I voraciously read and watched and twittered (tweeted?) the Missoulian trial coverage. As a news addict, and being what it was, it was an unsettling feeling. The coverage – the writing, the video stuff? – was so excellent that I compare my recent addiction to my need to check the news every 5 minutes during the beginning throes of the stockmarket/economic meltdown.

Unsettling because of the content it produced. This link will take you to the entire Missoulian coverage since jury selection.

As if reading my mind – I almost email Tristan Scott, the Missoulian reporter, telling him that the story I wanted to hear was Strahan’s mother’s – he deftly covered Strahan’s testimony, and accompanied it with this video. I’m not sure if the video was done by Tim Akimoff (who I know was doing earlier video, and who gains credit for the photo associated with the above-linked Missoulian article.)

That one story evoked stronger emotions in me than anything I can recall in reading all that I had read about Forrest Clayton Salcido’s murder. His last moments – how it senselessly began – how Salcido had the upper hand initially – how Strahan had tried to intervene when St. Dennis began his stomping – and the callous senseless inhumane way in which it ended. The mother who’s son had come home, drunk bloody and shaken, crying. How she came to pick up the phone and call the police the next day.

Scott’s blog, Cops and Courts, has additional coverage.

Understanding the brutality with which Salcido faced his death, and seeing Strahan’s testimony on video, I find myself struggling with an amount of sympathy for Strahan. Certainly more for his mother. Should I? And yet could it have all had never happened if not for other events earlier in the day?

The local Havre Daily News has provided some coverage too. While difficult to read, Leeds rambling coverage tell us that Strahan’s mother had bought the punks their “double-quart” (from Scott’s coverage) of vodka (from Leeds). (The Havre Daily News has this story, which details St. Dennis’ jailhouse phone call confession, and this one which opens the trial.)

What if?

Also out of Leeds’ story we find that after the initial attack, but before the stomping, Salcido had attempted to leave and Strahan had told St. Dennis “not to follow him.”

Leeds’ rambling run-on style illustrates, if anything, the difficulties Missoula County attorney Van Valkenberg had in pulling out these seemingly minutia-like details.

In the video that accompanies Scott’s report on Strahan’s testimony, you can hear Van Valkenberg go back at Strahan after he testifies that he hadn’t stomped on Salcido – “now, are you aware that there has been a forensic examination done of the toe of your shoe?” and Strahan answers “yes.” Van Valkenberg continues: “.. and are you aware that there is blood at the toe of that shoe?” and Strahan answer “yes.”

The verdict, if the twitter times were right, was sometime after 3 p.m. yesterday. Scott has “raw video” of the verdict being handed to the court by the jurors – and it also includes video of St. Dennis’ reaction.

He seems almost excited about the sentencing.

How you prosecute the crime of what were a man’s last moments in life, how you bring to horrible light its horrible brutality, how a reporter covers it, and how a public defender has to defend it, I can not imagine having to be so immersed in something so utterly utterly horrible. It’s work that must be commended, despite how much I’d rather it not be needed at all.

Forrest Clayton Salcido was given some justice this week. There will be more. Too bad it had to happen at all.

  1. Tristan Scott

    Hey jhwygirl,
    Thanks for following our coverage this week. We appreciate it. Here’s a story I wrote in December 2007 about Forrest Salcido’s life, which, I hope, tells a little bit about who he was. I know you were interested, and that reports of the criminal trial were sometimes lacking:

  2. It was some heavy stuff, Tristan. The piece on Strahan’s testimony left me sick and shaken.

    That one post on your blog, says a lot :

    …- one man’s life is tragically gone, another man’s future hangs in limbo, and the burden of administering justice rests on 12 Montana residents. We’ve all heard a lot of knee-jerk reactions in the wake of this murder, but I think it’s important to remember that human lives are at stake, and a jury has to consider every shred of evidence before casting a verdict.

    Justice. It’s heavy stuff.

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