Pastor recalls events at trial

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2005

Jurors in the David Forster murder trial in Kenai Superior Court on Wednesday learned in detail about police equipment and heard from a church pastor who spoke with Forster about two hours before he allegedly shot and killed Kenai Police Officer John Watson 1 1/2 years ago.

Forster, 35, is charged with fatally shooting Watson with Watson's own gun on Christmas 2003, as Watson responded to a request to check on the welfare of an 18-year-old female traveling with Forster.

Forster and Watson reportedly struggled in the driveway of Forster's residence on Watergate Way in the Kenai VIP Subdivision, and Forster got hold of Watson's .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, shot him once in the back and then again in the back of the head killing him.

The female, later identified as Forster's fiancee, Crystal Hallman, was unharmed.

A weapons expert, Steven Meyer, who is the assistant team leader of the Special Emergency Response Team on the Kenai Peninsula, told the jury on Wednesday about the workings of Watson's weapon and explained how his special holster is designed to prevent an assailant from removing the weapon.

Meyer was in command of the SERT officers who surrounded Forster's house after he holed up inside during a four-hour standoff with police following the shooting. Forster later surrendered without incident.

Meyer said the holster, a Safari Land Level 3 weapon retention holster, has a snapping strap across the rear of the weapon, another snapping strap around the back of the trigger guard and has a molded ridge inside that locks into the pistol's ejection port, preventing easy removal from the holster.

Anchorage defense attorney John Murtagh asked if an officer would try to resnap the straps after reholstering the weapon if a suspect was perceived to be after the weapon.

Meyer said that might be a concern, and he said police receive extensive training on weapons retention.

Kenai District Attorney June Stein asked Meyer what other options are taught in weapons retention training.

"One thing might be to strike. The officer might step back and draw his pistol. Or, he might use pepper spray," Meyer said.

"One has to judge each situation as it occurs?" asked Stein.

"That's correct," Meyer said.

Jurors also heard from a number of law enforcement officers who were involved in the standoff at the Forster residence, saying they could see Forster inside the residence pacing back and forth and spending most of the four hours sitting in the bathroom staring, talking to himself and seemingly praying at times.

Kenai Police Lt. Kim Wannamaker, who was in charge of the department in the chief's holiday absence, said he had called John Rysdyk, pastor of the Soldotna Bible Chapel, to see if he would go to the Forster residence and attempt to talk Forster out of the house.

Wannamaker said he knew Rysdyk and thought he could help. He said he also wanted to talk to Rysdyk about contacts he had had with Forster earlier in the day.

The pastor did not go to the scene, Wannamaker said.

During his testimony on Wednesday, Rysdyk said Forster had called him earlier on the day of the shooting, requesting a meeting.

Rysdyk said Forster had been attending the Soldotna church "sporadically" since 1997 or 1998 but said he had not seen Forster for more than one year prior to Christmas 2003.

Forster left a phone message for the pastor on Christmas Eve and then called again the next day.

"On Christmas Day, he called and setup an appointment for 3 p.m. that day," Rysdyk said.

Because it was Christmas, Rysdyk said he expected Forster had some sort of emergency, but when they eventually met, Forster simply wanted to tell the pastor he had become engaged and planned to marry Hallman.

Besides the fact the meeting took place on Christmas Day, Rysdyk said it was unusual because when he met Forster and Hallman at the church, Forster also had brought in his two Labrador retriever dogs.

At one point, the pastor told Forster he was going to go to his office and get some Bibles and a premarital workbook for the couple, and when he returned, they were gone.

"I went upstairs to see if they had gone into the old sanctuary upstairs," Rysdyk said.

"I called, 'Dave. Crystal.'

"She responded, that they were in there," Rysdyk said.

Before Rysdyk went into the darkened sanctuary, he turned on the light switch, located in the outer hallway, and said he found Forster not wearing his shirt, down on one knee, and looking up with his hands extended upward as in prayer. The dogs were in the sanctuary with him.

"I asked, 'Dave are you OK?'

"He said, 'You tell me,'" Rysdyk said.

"I said, 'I don't know, but I can pray for you.'

"He said that's what he needed," Rysdyk said.

As he began to pray, however, Forster got up, broke out of the prayer circle and Rysdyk quickly ended the prayer, he told the jury.

Under questioning from District Attorney Stein, Rysdyk said when he received the phone call from Lt. Wannamaker, who also attends the church, the pastor said he would speak to his family about whether to go to the scene.

"My sister-in-law was shaken and said I shouldn't go to the house," Rysdyk said.

"I told (Wannamaker) I would help by phone if I could, and that I would pray no one else would be hurt," he said.

"They called at about 1:30 a.m. and said David had been arrested."

In cross examining the pastor, Murtagh said, "I get the sense your Christmas started with you wanting to help someone who attended your church and ended with you in the middle of something very tragic."

"That's right," Rysdyk said.

Stein asked about the unusualness of requesting the meeting on Christmas to announce wedding plans, saying, "You agree what's important to some may not be to others?"

"Yes," said Rysdyk.

"It seemed normal?" Stein asked, about the meeting content.

"Yeah, fine," he said.

The jury is expected to continue listening to the state's case at 8:30 a.m. today.

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