Dozing jury may result in mistrial

Dispatchers, others testify in Forster case

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2005


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  Photo by M. Scott Moon Kenai Police Department Sgt. Gus Sandahl gestures toward a map of the crime scene as he recounts events on the night Officer John Watson was killed.

David Forster listens to testimony Tuesday in Kenai Superior Court where he is on trial for allegedly killing Kenai Police Officer John Watson on Dec. 25, 2003.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

After two jurors in the David Forster murder trial in Kenai Superior Court Tuesday nearly fell asleep, the jury was admonished by Judge Donald Hopwood to stay awake to prevent needing to restart the trial.

"I need to encourage all of you to stay awake during all of the trial," Hopwood said midway through the second day of what is expected to be a two- to three-week trial.

"It is important that all of you pay attention, because if (falling asleep) happens often, it would result in having to start over," he said.

The jurors, who were selected after a full week of questioning, had spent the morning listening to playbacks of radio communications between Kenai police dispatchers and Officer John Watson the day he was slain.

Forster, 35, is accused in killing Watson on Christmas Day in 2003.

After hearing testimony from former dispatcher Kelly Holt and dispatcher Beverly Stavley, who were both on duty the day of the shooting, and from law enforcement officers called to the scene, Hopwood noticed one of the jurors with her head down, apparently asleep.


Photo by M. Scott Moon

Kenai Police Department Sgt. Gus Sandahl gestures toward a map of the crime scene as he recounts events on the night Officer John Watson was killed.

After the jurors left the courtroom for a lunch break, Anchorage defense attorney John Murtagh said he saw another juror nodding off and said he was making a formal motion that if jury members slept during the trial, he would ask for a mistrial.

Before the sleeping incident, jurors had heard Holt and Stavley, using dispatcher parlance, describe their communications with Watson as he was sent to Forster's home on Watergate Way in the Kenai VIP subdivision, where he subsequently was shot and killed.

Holt's eyes teared up and she became emotionally choked up as she told Kenai District Attorney June Stein that Watson's designator had been K-11.

She described a relatively routine beginning of Watson's shift that day, saying he went "10-8" at 1741 hours, meaning he was in his police car on the road at 5:41 p.m.

He performed a "10-36" or routine traffic stop at 5:46 p.m. and was again "10-8" at 5:50 p.m. Watson is "10-6," back in the police station, at 6:33 p.m. and is back on the road again at 6:52 p.m., she said.

"At 1941 hours we got a call from AST Dispatch," Holt said, recalling the Alaska State Trooper request for Kenai police to check on the welfare of a young woman reportedly in the company of Forster.

Stein played a digital recording to the phone call from troopers in which a dispatcher can be heard explaining troopers had received a call from people at a Christmas party at Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna.

Forster and an 18-year-old female, later identified as Forster's fiancee, Crystal Hallman, had stopped at the golf course, Forster entered the residence of course owners Pat and Myrna Cowan, and Forster reportedly said he was very tired and in need of a place to stay.

In the summer, Birch Ridge has cottages to rent, but the units are closed in winter.

The Cowans and other party guests told trooper dispatchers that Forster was acting oddly and Hallman was visibly upset. They feared for her well-being.

"I dispatched it to John (Watson). I told him the details of the call from 911 dispatch," Holt said.

At 8:05 p.m., Watson radioed saying he was at the Watergate Way location.

Stavley, who came on duty after Holt, told jurors Watson radioed at 8:15 p.m. saying the subject vehicle had just driven past him in the VIP Subdivision.

At 8:16 p.m., Watson radios that he is continuing on to the residence and traffic stops Forster's vehicle at the residence.

At 8:18 p.m., Watson calls a "10-68," according to Stavley, indicating he needs assistance.

During the playback of the communications, Watson's widow, Kathy Watson, who has been seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery during both days of testimony, began crying aloud.

Stein asked Stavley if there was anything unusual in the way Watson called for help.

"Yes. There's a lot of stress. I felt it should have been a 10-69," she said, meaning police officers' highest priority call for help in an emergency.

A few minutes after Watson's call for assistance, Kenai Police Sgt. Scott McBride and Officer Jay Sjogren arrived at Forster's residence and called for medics, saying, "10-69, 10-69. Officer down."

Kenai Sgt. Gus Sandahl and Trooper John Cyr also testified Tuesday, telling jurors of the scene at the Forster residence during the next four hours as police tried to get Forster to come out and surrender. He eventually did, at around 1 a.m.

On Tuesday afternoon, jurors also heard from Pat and Myrna Cowans and some guests at their annual Christmas party the night Forster walked in seeking a place to stay.

They said he walked in without knocking, said he was very tired and at one point, picked up Myrna Cowans' wine goblet from the table and emptied it in two big gulps.

The guests said they felt very uncomfortable about Forster being there.

They also told the jury that when Hallman came into the house, she was obviously shaken and wondered why she and Forster were there, saying they had a home in Kenai.

Pat Cowan described Forster as being "distraught" and said he offered to help find him a place to stay.

Cowan said Hallman also was distraught, and when the couple said they were leaving, he agreed with his daughter, Michelle, that they should not let them leave in that condition.

"I said I would call a cab for them, and at first (Forster) said he would take it. Then he got in his (Ford) Excursion and drove away," Cowan said.

Another Cowan daughter, Johni Blankenship, called 911.

Testimony by state's witnesses is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. today.

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