COURTROOM BLOG: Jensen Sentenced To Life in Prison

Crime Scene, March 21, 2008
Crime Scene, March 21, 2008

More than two years after a man was murdered in the Econo Lodge in Wichita Falls, the man police say killed him has been found guilty of murder. Jensen has opted for punishment by the court.

Jensen was sentenced to life in prison on the charge of 1st degree murder. It's a stacked sentence on top of a previous life sentence conviction in 2009 for unlawful possession of a firearm related to his arrest in 2008.

52-year-old Brian Jensen stood trial in the 89th District Court. The presiding judge is Mark Price.

On March 21st, 2008, police found the body of 46-year-old Robert Sommer in the Econo Lodge Motel. Sommer was Jensen's co-worker. The two of them were from New Mexico and were working in Wichita Falls. Police say they cracked this case with the help of a cab driver. A cab driver called police after giving Jensen a ride to Wal-Mart. While in the car, the cab driver told police Jensen was on the phone with someone and said there had been a fight at the Econo Lodge and someone may have been badly hurt.  Within hours police say they found Jensen at the Wal-Mart on Lawrence road with an illegal handgun and blood on his hands.

Monday, a jury of 6 men and 6 women was chosen for Jensen's murder trial.

Friday, September 17, 2010

At 9:05 Friday morning Judge Mark Price gave the jury instructions. Brian Jensen is wearing a button down blue collared shirt. Judge Price is explaining the difference between murder and self defense. He tells the jury a fight does not necessarily need to occur for someone to believe their life is in danger. If there is any real or perceived threat, a person can lawfully act in self defense.

In the prosecution's closing arguments the jury heard "the actions of the individual prove intent. Murder is when you intentionally or knowingly cause the death of another person." With that, the state finished their first set of arguments.

The defense then presented its closing case telling jurors, "Minutes after the murder, Jensen called his boss saying they had gotten into a fight, the gun just went off, and he hurt him real bad. That's what Jensen told his boss. That's not the actions of a murderer."

The defense also stated that "these guys were best friends, they worked together, took taxis together and kept their room neat."

When the topic of evidence came up, the defense attorney stated, "we don't know what happened in that room. We know a struggle occurred."

"The state disproved their own theory of the case, they did not prove intent," said the defense, "the state thinks money was the motive for murder, but Rob has blood on his hands and there is no blood on the money he had. There is no evidence that Rob did not pull that gun."

The defense held up the shirt found in the room with blood on it, recreating the scene with some of the items found in the room. "Consider all the evidence, and the burden. You don't want to guess a man into jail. All the evidence is consistent with self defense." With that, the defense handed closing arguments back to the prosecution.

The prosecution told the court, "He told his boss and a drug dealer what he did, but he didn't call 911. He fled the scene. Not the actions of an innocent man. He went to Wal-Mart with a loaded .38 caliber gun that he used to beat someone to death with. At the strip bar, he bummed money off of Robert, his dead co-worker. The defendant knew what he was doing, before and after the murder."

While the prosecution is making closing arguments, Jensen shakes his head. "This .38 caliber firearm is the instrument of death," the prosecutor told the court while acting out the state's version of the events. "Was this a fight between two men? Look at the scene. There was nothing in that room to show that there was a battle. The beds were made, the nightstand was untouched. What is the motive? Money and drugs. He changed clothes, he called a cab. These are conscious decisions. When the body was found, a wallet was next to it, unsnapped, with no money. He knew he was guilty."

The prosecution is now showing a power point presentation showing pictures of the evidence. When a close up of Sommer's face is shown,  one juror looks away. The prosecutor tells the court, "Look at this picture closely. Don't let Robert Sommer's life end in vain."

At 9:55 a.m., the prosecution closed and the jury left to deliberate. While they were discussing the case, the jury wanted to re-hear the testimony from the taxi cab driver about the gun that was recovered from Jensen. After a quick back and forth between the jury and the judge, the jury filed back into the courtroom. The court reporter read some of the transcribed testimony of the taxicab driver.

At 12:15, the jury reached a verdict finding Brian Jensen guilty of murder. The judge read the verdict, while Jensen was staring silently. After the verdict was read, the defense attorney opted for a poll to be taken among the jurors. One by one, each member of the jury confirmed that their vote was guilty.

The jury will be released for the punishment phase of the trial. The punishment phase begins at 2 p.m. Friday.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The prosecution continued its case against Brian Jensen when court resumed Thursday morning. Detective Love is back on the stand. He told the court Jensen was "very belligerent, very angry, not cooperative as well" when taken into custody. Detective Love then steps down.

The prosecution calls Carl Flint back to the stand. The defense begins by cross examining him. Flint told the court Jensen seemed drunk and had "something red on his hands." The defense asked, "Would you say Brian was acting out in self defense?" Flint responded, "Yeah! If it were me I would do the same thing!"

The defense again reiterated what Flint said under oath Wednesday, saying that Jensen told him, "If someone was going to hurt me, I'm going to hurt him first!"

In 2008 Kevin Crowley interviewed Flint for the defense. Crowley recorded the conversation, but the recording was not admitted into evidence. The defense, however, is allowed to read the transcription. Flint says Crowley told him the conversation was just between the two of them. "But I guess not cause now it's between everybody!" Flint told the court as he gestured to the jury. In the transcript, Crowley asked Flint, "Did you provide him (Jensen) with any drugs?" Flint responded, "No, no no." The defense then asked Flint in court, "So you lied?" Flint told the court, "I was nervous. I made a mistake." The defense passed Flint to the prosecution.

Flint said he received a random phone call from an investigator with the defense team. He said the caller never identified himself. Flint told the court, "I didn't know who was on the phone, but he said that it was between me and you."

The prosecution asked Flint, "So he (Crowley) lied to you and you lied to him." Flint shook his head yes.

Flint then stepped down.

The judge gave the jury instructions about evidence. The court is recessed until 10:05 a.m.

Back in session, prosecutors called Kelly Belcher to the stand who works as a forensic trace analyst. Belcher tests gun shot residue. Belcher testified she tested swabs from both the hands of Jensen and Sommer. Both had gun shot residue on their hands. She testified gunshot residue is easy to remove by washing hands or even by coming in contact with fluids like blood. The prosecution passed the witness to the defense.

The defense asked Belcher when gunshot residue is present. Belcher testified gun shot residue is present when a person fires a gun, is near a fired gun or picks up a gun that has fired before. The defense passed back to the prosecution.

The prosecution passed to the defense, saying there is no true way to determine who fired the gun or if there was a struggle. Belcher stepped down.

The prosecution called Jamie Becker. She is a senior criminologist. She tests firearms and can determine if a bullet was fired from a particular gun. Becker, through the use of props, is explaining how a gun is fired. She also confirmed Jensen was carrying a Smith and Wesson .38 special revolver. Becker did a trajectory analysis on the work boots found in the motel room. She showed the court the entrance and exit holes on the left boot. She also showed the entrance and exit holes on the trash can in the motel room. The bullet went into the trash can, then the left boot, then the right boot. The trajectory of the bullet was downward. Becker told the court the most likely explanation of Sommer's graze wound and the items with the bullet holes is if the victim was crouched or in a downward position.  Becker said if Sommer's was standing at 5'10", the person holding the gun would have to be significantly taller. Becker also said the wounds Sommer received are consistent with someone striking him with the barrel of a firearm. She also stated it was her belief that the blows Sommer received were located on the back of the head. Becker then demonstrated the blows are consistent with a victim on the floor and a suspect standing over the victim. To demonstrate Becker used a rubber gun and stood over Detective Young while he was on the floor. Becker stated the gun firing could be accidental or intentional. She said the wounds were consistent with the victim being struck at least twice.

The prosecution then passed the witness to the defense. Under defense questioning, Becker admitted trajectory is speculation. She also stated she cannot say with absolute certainty that Sommer's wounds were caused by a gun. Becker even admitted to practicing the trajectory in the State Attorney's office this morning. Becker then stepped down and the prosecution rested its case.

The defense's first witness is Amy Gruszecki. She is a forensic pathologist.

The judge called a recess until 1:30 p.m.

When the court resumed, Dr. Gruszecki also stated the wounds were consistent with someone who had been in a fight. She told the court you cannot determine a bullet's trajectory based on the graze wound. Gruszecki said the graze on the victim's forehead could also be a laceration and that there is no clear way to tell if a bullet caused the wound.

The defense rested after the witness stepped down. Both state and defense closed. Final arguments will be at 9 a.m. on Friday.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The prosecution continued its case against Brian Jensen, calling Margaret Meadows to the witness stand. Ms. Meadows is the assistant production coordinator at the Walmart on Lawrence Rd. Meadows brought multiple surveillance videos from the night of the alleged attack. The courtroom saw Jensen walk the isles of the store with another man, and purchase a DVD player. The videos shown were from Friday March 21st, 2008 at approximately 2:11 a.m. Jensen was shown wearing a white shirt and a backwards ball cap. The state says that after shopping at Walmart, Jensen was apprehended. The men left the store at 2:18 a.m. They were inside for about 7 minutes.

While the videos are shown, Jensen sits in a blue button down shirt, motionless.

Jurors also saw grainy video from the parking lot when Jensen was apprehended by police at approximately 2:22 a.m.

The state's next witness is Kelly Brewer, Crime Scene Tech for the WFPD. Ms. Brewer was dispatched to the Econo Lodge shortly after 1 a.m. She also collected and tested evidence obtained by Officer Raines, who held Jensen in custody.

While Officer Brewer was talking about the evidence collected, Jensen was talking and writing with his attorneys.

Officer Brewer brought some pictures that she took of the Smith and Weston revolver taken from Jensen showing what she called "suspected blood on the barrel." The courtroom then saw the video taken by Officer Brewer showing the Econo Lodge and the exterior of the hotel room. The defense didn't object to the video being played, but did ask that the audio was muted. The judge granted that request.

In the video, we see officers standing in the doorway of room 446, and then we see the interior of the room. The body of Sommer is seen lying face down on the floor between 2 beds. The beds are still made, but have various items on them. Welding tools are seen on top of a shelf and a TV turned to CNN is still on in the background.

Clothes are neatly folded beside a pink Ralph Lauren purse. On the bedside table, there are empty alcohol bottles, shot glasses and cigarette butts.

Blood is found on the night side table, trash can, floor, and on a white T-shirt left on the ground.

Court is called to recess until 10:50 a.m.

Once  back in session, Officer Brewer is back on the stand being questioned by the state.

Officer Brewer is painstakingly detailing all the evidence taken from the motel room. She shows the court receipts, business cards, and bullet casings.

Over 80 pieces of evidence have been admitted and examined by the state.

Officer Brewer showed the courtroom work boots that were found in the motel room near the body. A bullet slug was found in the sole of those boots. The jury also saw a trash can found in the motel room, near the body. The can has blood on it and suspected bullet holes.

We were closely shown the body, under the night table, next to a bloody trash can with a bullet hole in it.

The body was face down and a wallet was open next to the man. 

The jury was then shown pictures taken of the hands of Jensen. Officer Brewer said that the pictures depict "suspected blood" on Jensen's hands. The jury is then shown those pictures, and Jensen kept shifting in his chair.

The court was then shown the clothing that Jensen was wearing the night of the homicide. There is a stain on the left jeans pant leg. His socks, a wrinkled white short sleeve button down shirt and  a navy blue New York Yankees ball cap were also presented.

Then the jury was shown a white long sleeve shirt with the words 'New York' on the back. This is the same shirt collected from the floor of the motel room. Blood is spattered in several areas.

During questioning by the defense, it was revealed Officer Brewer was known as Officer Roitenberg at the time of the homicide.

Defense Attorney Brennon Brady detailed pictures taken from the room of the Econo Lodge. He stated there was no suspected blood found in the sink area, on the towels or on the faucet. No suspected blood was found on the wallet, tile, or money either.

The defense then passed the witness back to the prosecution. During this time it was stated the majority of the blood in the room was found near the body of Sommer.

Carolyn Van Winkle was called by the prosecution after Officer Brewer stepped down from the stand.

Van Winkle testified that blood was found on the gun that was recovered by Jensen. She also said blood was found on a bullet slug.

Van Winkle tested the gun and slug for DNA traces of both Jensen and Sommer. Sommer's blood was found on the grip of the gun and multiple locations on the gun had Sommer's DNA. The chances of another Caucasian matching Sommer's DNA is one in 238 quadrillion.

There was also a lower level of DNA that was tested. Although it couldn't be confirmed that Jensen had DNA on the gun, the analyst ran a probability sample. 99.9% of all Caucasians , African Americans, and SW Hispanics, were excluded from the sample. Jensen's DNA was not excluded. 

The Prosecution then passed the witness to the defense.

Under defense questioning, Van Winkle stated that DNA evidence wasn't just blood. DNA from the skin was found as well. Van Winkle stated that there usually isn't a time frame on DNA samples.

Although the barrel of the gun was thoroughly tested, the majority of the gun itself was not tested.

The defense passed the witness.

The prosecution then called Carl Flint to the stand. Flint is an acquaintance of Jensen's. He has a prior theft conviction from 2005. Flint testified he met Jensen before the alleged attack to buy some drugs. Flint said that Jensen was with a female friend named Matilda.

When the defense objected to the fact that Jensen went to buy drugs due to speculation, Flint turned around to the defense attorney and said, "ain't no speculation! He got drugs!"

Flint told the courtroom that on the night of the alleged attack, Jensen arrived in a taxi cab and he wanted to get drugs. Flint said Jensen gave flint $100 to go buy crack. He testified they bought four $20 rocks and smoked crack.

The prosecutor preceded to show the courtroom pictures of Flint's apartment. Flint said he saw Jensen with a gun and was startled. Flint explained that Jensen said, "if someone was going to shoot me, I'm going to shoot him first."

Flint then asked if Jensen killed someone and Jensen said he "hurt him real bad. Bullet grazed his head." Flint said that Jensen wanted to go to a strip club, but it was closed so they ended up going to Walmart.

They then took a cab to Walmart where both Jensen and Flint walked in to buy a DVD player. Flint said that Jensen, "was on something...I could tell he was either drunk or high."

Flint also explained that Jensen paid the cab driver with a $100 and he "ain't never seen a man pay a cab $100."

After police arrested Jensen at the Walmart, the cabbie and Flint split the money.

Prosecution passed to the defense.

The defense asked Flint if he remembered speaking to their investigators in 2008. Flint said, "no," to which the defense said the conversation was taped. Flint was dismissed so he could listen to the taped conversation.

The prosecution then called their next witness, Detective Brad Love with the Wichita Falls Police Department. Det. Love detailed evidence found in the motel room. He explained that blood spatter was found near the body, specifically on the trash can.

Court then adjourned for the day. The trial will resume Thursday at 9 a.m.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

As the trial got underway Tuesday, the 73-year-old cab driver was one of the first people called to the stand. Herbert Palmer was asked to identify the suspect. Palmer smiled and said, "The man in the yellow shirt." Jensen is wearing white.

The prosecution asked Palmer to tell them what happened the night he gave Jensen a ride. The cab driver told the court he picked up two men, took them to a strip club, then brought them back to the Econo Lodge. The driver says he then got another call to the Econo Lodge where he picked up Jensen. He said Jensen was "sweating, like I don't know what." The cab driver says Jensen asked to use his phone. The cab driver testified he overheard Jensen say he "hurt him real bad" and was thinking about skipping town. The cab driver told the court he was afraid for his life. He told Jensen he didn't see or hear anything and then dropped him off near a home on 15th St. The cab driver then flagged down police.

Palmer told the court he knew Jensen had a gun when he took him to the strip club earlier that evening. He says Jensen was worried about being searched at the strip club.

The prosecution then called another cab driver. Thomas Terry is a cab driver for Wichita Star. He told the court more about how the cab company operates and explained how he dropped Jensen off at the Walmart on Lawrence.

After a recess at lunch, the prosecution called David Scott Raines with the Wichita Falls PD. He was the officer who took Jensen into custody. Raines identified the submitted evidence the revolver Jensen had on him the night Raines arrested him. Officer Raines testified Jensen had a .38 caliber revolver with 5 live rounds in it when he was taken into custody. Raines says Jensen also had a pocket knife, cigarettes, a lighter, a business card and $350 in cash.

The defense motioned to suppress evidence. The judge overruled.

The prosecutor showed the jury the bullet and gun. The jurors sat up in their seats as they look at the evidence.

The prosecution called Lloyd White, a deputy medical examiner out of Fort Worth who conducted Sommer's autopsy. He testified that Sommer's body was badly beaten, mainly in the face and head area. Sommer's right ear was swollen and bruised, he had a black eye, scraping on his cheek and a laceration on his forehead.

As the prosecutor prepared to show the court pictures of the body,  the defense examined them, and Jensen took a close look at the pictures. The jury then looked at photos of the body and diagrams of the crime scene. The pictures are extremely gruesome. Some jurors even turned away.

The deputy medical examiner testified that investigators first thought Sommer died of a gunshot wound. Yet, The bullet only grazed his forehead. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.   Sommer had marijuana in his system and a blood alcohol level of .271. The medical examiner told the court he believes Sommer was beaten to death, possibly by the gun. White told the court Sommer was struck 6 or 7 times. He testified there were no defensive injuries to show the victim ever fought back.

The defense then questioned the deputy medical examiner. The defense attempted to show the injuries were caused simply as the result of a fight. Under defense questioning the medical examiner testified the victim could have died because of a fall or hitting something. The defense is telling the court Jensen acted in self defense. The defense demonstrated the injuries could be consistent with two people who were struggling with a gun. And the defense focused on  the amount of alcohol Sommer had consumed on that night.

The prosecutor again talked about the cause of death -blunt force trauma to the head- which is a homicide. At that time Jensen shook his head and leaned over to talk to his attorney. The medical examiner reiterated that a homicide is any death caused by another human's hand.

The court took a quick ten minute recess from 3:25p.m. to 3:35 p.m. During that recess Jensen sat in the courtroom laughing with his attorneys. He's being represented by public defenders, James A. Ramussen and Brennon Brady.

Following the recess the prosecution called Officer Robert McCan with the Wichita Falls PD. He was the assisting officer the night Jensen was arrested. He testified that Jensen was arrested without incident.

The prosecution then called Jennifer Pihl. She worked at Maximus Gentleman's club as an entertainer for three years. She testified she came in contact with Jensen on the night of the murder. She referred to Jensen as foul and dirty. Pihl says she drank with Jensen and Sommer and says they talked about doing cocaine and meth. She says Jensen borrowed money from Sommer at the strip club.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, the judge dismissed jurors.

Mary Moloney, Newschannel 6