Captive audience for trial of trooper
From his wooden courtroom bench at the Mesa County Justice Center, 61-year-old Larry Bullard hears urgency as he listens to legal arguments about “every policeman’s worst nightmare.”
“I could be sitting where Gene Lawyer is right now,” said Bullard, a retired 32-year veteran of three law enforcement agencies, including the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department and Grand Junction Police Department.
“It’s important for law enforcement in this valley to be paying close attention to this case,” Bullard said during a break in testimony in the trial of Trooper Ivan “Gene” Lawyer, who faces possible prison time if convicted in the 2010 shooting death of Jason Kemp.
Lawyer’s trial may set precedent, Bullard said.
“This is going to be critical to the way we operate, how we’re perceived and the way we’re going to continue to operate,” he said. “It’s a training issue, liability issue … you have a whole bunch of issues right here.”
Police officers, current and former, have been scattered among attendees in District Judge Richard Gurley’s courtroom during Lawyer’s trial this past week. Several rows behind Bullard, the senior leadership of the Colorado State Patrol in Mesa County, Capt. Ed Clark and Major Barry Bratt, listened to testimony from a back-row bench. Bratt and Lawyer briefly shook hands before opening statements Tuesday.
Martha Scott of Grand Junction, a retired schoolteacher, sat in on Thursday’s testimony because she said she was interested in the Fourth Amendment discussion.
“I don’t think a policeman should come into your house without a warrant over an accident with no injury of any kind,” Scott said.
Scott, who brings her lap pillow to ease the feel of the courtroom benches, is no stranger to high-profile criminal cases. She attended the 2009 Internet luring trial of former Grand Junction High School Athletic Director Johnny Walker, in addition to the murder trials of Miriam Helmick that same year and Jerry Nemnich in 2010.
“I’m very impressed with the hard work that goes into the process on both sides,” Scott said.
Others sit in for professional, note-taking reasons, including a representative of a Denver law firm retained by Jason Kemp’s family in a federal civil lawsuit against Lawyer, Cpl. Kirk Firko, Sgt. Chad Dunlap, the Colorado State Patrol and the head of the agency’s training.
Bullard, meanwhile, said he hadn’t formed any conclusions about right and wrong in Lawyer’s case as of Thursday, his second day listening to testimony.
“I agree with everything both sides are saying right now,” Bullard said. “They’re debating.”