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At Bruce trial, judge decides contested evidence can be heard

Nov 20, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The judge in the murder trial of a Shoshoni man has ruled against a motion from defense attorneys that could have kept out crucial evidence or led to a mistrial.

On Wednesday, lawyers for defendant Shey Bruce asserted prosecutors told one witness what a previous one had said in order to elicit the testimony they wanted.

District Court Judge Norman E. Young did not agree.

"The only rule we're talking about is the rule against sequestration," he said at the trial in Lander. "I haven't heard any convincing evidence that has happened."

Public defender Devon Petersen had argued that deputy county attorney Pat LeBrun broke the rule and doing so made the testimony of Teri Hughes, 28, of Shoshoni inadmissible. Petersen also said the infraction could be grounds for a mistrial.

Hughes is Laster's stepdaughter.

Bruce, 45, of Shoshoni, is accused of second-degree murder in the death of Charles Darrell Laster, 65, of Shoshoni. Laster was found deceased the morning of May 15 due to bleeding in his brain. Prosecutors allege that on the night of May 15, Bruce struck both Charles and Lavena Laster in their heads with a beer bottle inside Laster's home at 115 Main St. Shoshoni after a day of drinking.

A second charge accuses Bruce of domestic assault for attacking his girlfriend -- Laster's wife, Lavena Laster -- also on May 15.

Hughes's testimony at issue was that Laster often had severe nosebleeds. She had known the man since she was 7 years old and had seen him have more than 100 nosebleeds, the worst producing enough blood to fill a sink about an inch and a half deep, Hughes said.

Whether he had nosebleeds is crucial to both sides of the case.

Later testimony would show bleeding inside the skull only causes a person to bleed a small amount from the nose and mouth, Petersen said in his opening statement.

Photographs of Laster's body presented at the trial Nov. 19, however, showed a red fluid on the man's face, on his sleeve and soaked into a pillow beneath his head.

Two neighbors who saw the body the morning it was discovered testified they also saw a large amount of blood.

Petersen said the amount of blood would be a question the prosecutors could not answer.

He argued that LeBrun coached Hughes to talk about the nosebleeds.

On cross examination, Hughes said she met with LeBrun and he asked her about Laster's nosebleeds before the trial started Nov. 20. He did not, however, tell her to talk about the issue, Hughes said.

She had not thought about Laster's condition any time before then during the investigation of the case or mention it to anyone involved in the trial previously, she said.

The issue of nosebleeds first arose Nov. 19 when Lavena Laster, Hughes's mother, testified Charles Laster had severe, chronic nosebleeds.

Petersen argued LeBrun might have told Hughes about Lavena Laster's testimony.

LeBrun told the judge he did not tell Hughes what any other witness said and only asked questions.

"I asked the witness, 'did her father have nosebleeds?'" LeBrun said.

Young admonished the defense attorneys, saying new evidence coming to light at trials is common and decided LeBrun did not violate any rule of criminal procedure.

Prosecutors presented evidence Nov. 19 and Nov. 20 implicating Bruce in the crimes with which he is charged.

LeBrun Nov. 20 played a recording of a 911 call Charles and Lavena Laster made the night of May 14 after Bruce allegedly attacked them.

Charles Laster said a man hit his wife in the temple and said she was in pain.

"I got hit a couple times in the head with a beer bottle, but he left," Laster said.

Laster, Laster said the attacker's name was Shey, but he did not know the man's last name.

Bruce called Hughes for a ride after he left Laster's residence the night of May 14, Hughes said.

That night, Bruce was upset and said, "They got what they deserved," Hughes said. She thought he was referring to her mother and stepfather.

Michael Hughes is Teri Hughes's husband and testified that he learned Laster was dead at about 7 a.m. May 15.

Later that morning, Bruce came to his house, seemed agitated, and repeated several times, "How do you think I feel?" Michael Hughes said.

Bruce also said, "All kinds of messed up (expletive) happened last night," Hughes said.

Prosecutors supported their theory that jealousy motivated Bruce with testimony from Norman Hughes, Michael Hughes's father and a neighbor of Laster.

Bruce came to his home the morning of May 14, Norman Hughes said.

"He'd witnessed (Charles) Darrell Laster with his hand on Vena's leg," Hughes said using a nickname for Lavena Laster. "He was a little bit upset about that."

Teri Hughes's testimony added the jealousy theory as well.

After she gave him a ride, Bruce told her he had walked into Charles Laster's bedroom earlier that night and thought he saw Charles and Lavena Laster having se, Hughes said.

Defense attorneys, however, continued to question whether some other event could have killed Charles Laster.

Teri Hughes saw her stepfather when he was alive the night of May 14, after Bruce is alleged to have attacked him.

"I looked him over pretty good," she said.

Hughes did not see scratches, blood or bruises on Laster, she said.

Petersen showed Laster was prone to falling.

"His balance was off," Hughes said.

He would sway when he walked and was sober but fell down often when drunk, she said. The condition was the result of an accident in 2009.

She also found her stepfather passed out drunk on the floor of his home several times, Hughes said.

Michael Hughes said he also found Laster passed out on the floor several times.

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