Idaho Falls, ID — Last year, Bonneville County Sheriff’s Deputy Wyatt Maser died in the line of duty. Like most on-duty deaths, Maser died in a vehicle related accident. This time, however, it was different, as the person who ran him over and killed him was Sergeant Randy Flegel. Despite Flegel hitting and killing Maser, a woman who was subdued nearby the accident is being charged with Maser’s death — not Flegel.
Jenna Holm, 35, had been tasered and was lying subdued on the road when Flegel ran over and killed his fellow officer Despite these facts, Holm is the one facing charges for it.
According to police, a witness called 911 on the morning of May 18, 2020 after he saw Holm’s car overturned on the highway. Holm — who was in the midst of a mental health crisis — had gotten out of her overturned car and was walking around the street with a machete.
Deputy Benjamin Bottcher was first on the scene, according to police, arriving at 5:20 a.m. Bottcher found the witness who called 911, Kent Buttars, and Holm. Holm was yelling and swinging the machete.
“I’ve never witnessed or seen anything like this in my life,” Buttars told the court during a pre-trial hearing for Holm.
According to police, Bottcher had dealt with Holm just days earlier at the Crisis Center in Idaho Falls, so he didn’t immediately resort to force.
Instead of immediately shooting and killing Holm — like so many other officers in his shoes would have done — Bottcher tried to talk Holm down, telling her that he was there to help her but that she needed to put down the machete.
According to the body camera footage, which was shown in court, Bottcher’s de-escalation tactics appeared to work and he even radioed in a “code 4,” a code that means he could handle the situation.
A few minutes later, Maser arrived on the scene and got close to Holm before Bottcher told him to back up. Just then, Holm began to approach Maser with the machete over her head, causing Maser to draw his gun and Bottcher to taser Holm.
Holm immediately fell to the ground as Bottcher continued to taser her so she couldn’t reach the machete. She was subdued enough for Bottcher to move in and place her in handcuffs.
Holm was subdued for nearly an entire minute before Sgt. Flegel arrived on the scene. Flegel was apparently driving too fast to stop and did not see Maser before plowing into the deputy, killing him.
After Maser was killed by Flegel, Holm was charged with his death. Despite not being the one who killed Maser, Holm now faces felony involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Holm’s charges are brought thanks to legal doctrines like the “felony murder doctrine,” which states that:
“A rule of criminal statutes that any death which occurs during the commission of a felony is first-degree murder, and all participants in that felony or attempted felony can be charged with and found guilty of murder. A typical example is a robbery involving more than one criminal, in which one of them shoots, beats to death or runs over a store clerk, killing the clerk. Even if the death were accidental, all of the participants can be found guilty of felony murder, including those who did no harm, had no gun, and/or did not intend to hurt anyone. In a bizarre situation, if one of the holdup men or women is killed, his/her fellow robbers can be charged with murder.”
“Holm’s actions had deputies focused on her due to her continued refusal to put down her machete, move off the roadway, and her aggressiveness toward any vehicle or person who was near her,” wrote Idaho State Police Detective Mike Cox in a probable cause affidavit. “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.”
However, as Reason Magazine points out, Eugene Volokh, a professor of law at UCLA law school, says that Idaho prosecutors may have a problem winning this case.
“I’m inclined to say she shouldn’t be liable because this guy, the police officer, was killed by another police officer,” he says. “I think Idaho law agrees with me on that, because Idaho…adopts the agency theory.”
The agency theory—as opposed to the proximate cause theory—holds that you may only be held accountable under the felony murder rule if the murder was carried out by other agents of the crime. The state adopted that line of thought in State of Idaho v. Pina, in which Juan Carlos Fuentes Pina’s felony murder conviction was overturned because the actual shooter in question was not an accomplice in Pina’s alleged criminal activity. In other words, had Maser been struck and killed by one of Holm’s co-conspirators, Holm could be charged. But Holm had no co-conspirators.
Whether or not Holm will be found guilty in Maser’s death remains unclear. Hopefully a jury would see the lack of logic for charging her with Maser’s death.
Her trial was set to start last month but was postponed until February after her public defender said they found new evidence supporting her case.
“Defense was just made aware last week that important information, that has the potential to greatly help Jenna Holm in the presentation of her defense, is now for the first time available to her,” Defense Attorney Rocky Wixom wrote in the motion.
What do you think? Should Holm be charged for a death she did not take part in? Let us know in the comments below.