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A woman experiencing a mental health crisis in Idaho is now facing up to 30 years in prison after a sheriff’s deputy arresting her was struck and killed—by another officer.
Jenna Holm, who’s now 35, was holding the tip of a machete under her chin and walking down a Bonneville County street when two sheriff deputies confronted her in May 2020. Moments after they managed to chase her, talk her down and tase her, one of the officers rushed over to take her into custody and was hit by the patrol vehicle of a colleague arriving on the scene.
Despite being incapacitated at the time of the fatal accident, Holm was charged with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in the officer’s death thanks to an obscure Idaho legal doctrine that allows prosecutors to pursue involuntary manslaughter charges if a death occurs while someone is committing a felony crime.
State prosecutors say Holm is ultimately responsible for the death of Deputy Wyatt Maser because she had threatened him multiple times with the machete she was holding and disobeyed his commands after he arrived on the scene, according to charging documents provided to VICE News.
“Holm’s unlawful conduct, the threat she created by wielding a machete in an aggressive manner, her perpetration of the unlawful act of aggravated assault toward Deputy Maser upon his exit of his patrol vehicle, therefore constitutes by statute, that Holm committed involuntary manslaughter when Deputy Maser was struck and killed while trying to detain Holm and make safe a situation Holm was actively creating,” a probable cause affidavit obtained by the Idaho State Journal says.
She’s facing a potential 10-year prison sentence for the manslaughter charge as well as another five years for the alleged assault. That charge, however, can be enhanced by up to 15 years because of her possession of a deadly weapon at the time of the incident.
But Sgt. Randy Flegel, the deputy who ultimately killed Maser, managed to avoid criminal charges because of another Idaho statute that says accidents resulting in death aren’t punishable by the law. And according to Holm’s public defender Jordan Crane, if the officer who killed his colleague can’t be charged, neither should his client.
“We’re not going to seek conceding that any of her conduct was lawful but that the death is more on the shoulders of someone else than her,” Crane said.
Holm also didn’t harm Maser or his partner with the machete during their encounter and was already on the ground after being tased before the officer approached, according to Holm’s other public defender, Rocky Wixom.
Crane also says prosecutors trying to blame the actions that led to Maser’s death to Holm doesn’t gel with Idaho’s own statute, which specifically says the death in question has to be the result of an act committed by someone also committing a related felony. According to the attorneys, that person needs to either be an accomplice or the one being charged.
“If I rob a bank and my partner is in the car waiting and a security guard comes and shoots me, in Idaho you can’t be liable for my death,” Crane said. “In some states you can, but in Idaho you can’t, because that security guard wasn't acting, wasn't perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate the robbery that you and I decided to commit.”
Last month, Crane and Wixom filed a motion to dismiss the manslaughter charge, which will be argued this week.
In June, the findings of an internal department investigation into Maser’s death appeared to bolster Crane and Wixom’s argument that the fatal accident was not Holm’s fault. The findings, which were published in judicial court records, showed several other factors, including the officers’ failure to put on emergency patrol car lights, and Maser stepping into the roadway as Flegel pulled up, played a role in the tragic accident. The investigation even recommended that the sheriff’s department create and implement a roadside safety training program specifically for new recruits, according to East Idaho News.
A chief deputy prosecuting attorney for the Bonneville County Attorney’s Office told VICE News that due to ethical obligations, it could not provide comment on the case.
The trial for Holm is set to begin on Feb. 14.