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Jason Krause

Other Arizona Exonerations
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On June 24, 1994, 18-year-old Charles Thurman was fatally shot as he was driving a Jeep with three friends along Lynx Creek Road in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Thurman’s friends, Terry Eckerman, 18, and Amanda Miller and Stacy Clark, both 17, said Thurman had been intentionally causing the Jeep to backfire when he was struck in the head by a gunshot.

The shooting took place near the home of 39-year-old Jason “Jay” Krause, who admitted that he was out hunting skunks with his .22-caliber rifle when he heard what he thought were gunshots from a passing vehicle. He said that he fell to the ground and that he believed his gun discharged. The Jeep veered off the road and into Krause's yard where it collided with Krause's truck. When police said the surviving passengers in the Jeep said there were no guns in the vehicle, Krause said he must have been the one who shot Thurman. Police interviewed numerous people who were in the area, including campers and residents. At least 12 people said they heard gunshots they believed came from the Jeep.

Six days later, Krause was charged with second-degree murder and three counts of attempted second-degree murder. He went to trial in Yavapai County Superior Court in May 1996.

Eckerman, Miller, and Clark testified that the Jeep was backfiring that night and that they heard multiple “pops” before Thurman slumped over. Miller and Clark testified that after the Jeep came to a stop, Krause yelled at them, asking why they were doing a drive-by shooting. The three survivors said there was no gun in the Jeep that night, although .22-caliber shell casings were found on the floor of the vehicle.

Harold Kelly testified for the prosecution that Krause had confronted him on Lynx Creek Road in the summer of 1993. Kelly testified Krause banged on his vehicle and yelled at him for speeding. At the time, Krause was holding a rifle with a scope.

Another prosecution witness, Kerwin Ross, testified that he was driving on Lynx Creek Road in 1993 when Krause screamed and yelled at him, accusing him of speeding.

Krause’s wife testified that after the shooting, Krause said that he thought he had killed “the boy.”

The prosecution presented evidence that indicated a tire and a rocker panel on the Jeep had been damaged by gunfire that appeared to be from .22-caliber bullets.

FBI special agent Earnest Peele testified for the prosecution that he was an expert in comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA). CBLA compared concentrations of seven elements—including arsenic, tin, copper, and cadmium—between the recovered mangled or fragmented bullets from crime scenes to bullets recovered from suspects. If the fragments and a suspect’s bullets were determined to be indistinguishable for each of the seven elements, analysts such as Peele deemed them to have come from the same source—or box—of ammunition.

Peele testified that he determined that the concentrations of the elements found in the bullet fragments taken from Thurman’s body and from the Jeep’s tire were “analytically indistinguishable” from the concentrations of the elements in bullets found in Krause’s home.

Krause testified that around the time of the shooting, he was spending every night outside of his home with his .22-caliber rifle looking for skunks. He told the jury that on the evening of June 24, 1994, his rifle was loaded and the safety was off. He said he thought he heard gunshots in the distance and the sounds of gunshots kept getting closer—including one or two loud explosions in front of each house on Lynx Creek Road. Krause testified that he believed that someone was driving down the road shooting at houses or through trees and that he was terrified.

Krause said he hit the ground and that his rifle went off as the Jeep drove by his home. He didn’t know, however, if the gun went off before or after he hit the ground. He admitted he knew his gun had fired and that he thought, “I must have shot that boy,” although he didn’t remember how it happened.

Krause's defense lawyer sought to introduce the police reports of interviews with people who had heard gunshots instead of or in addition to backfires coming from the area of the Jeep and two of them said they saw another vehicle following closely behind the Jeep. But the judge barred the reports, ruliing they were hearsay evidence. The defense attorney did not attempt to call any of the 12 witnesses named in the reports.

On May 15, 1996, the jury acquitted Krause of second-degree murder, but convicted him of the lesser-included offense of manslaughter in the death of Thurman and three counts of attempted manslaughter of the surviving passengers. He was sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison. His convictions were upheld on appeal.

In 2004, the National Research Council issued a report that shredded any validity the FBI attached to CBLA. The report found, among other things, that “(t)he available data do not support any statement that a crime bullet came from, or is likely to have come from, a particular box of ammunition” and that making such connections was “seriously misleading.”

Based in part on that report, the FBI announced in 2005 that it would no longer use CBLA given that neither scientists nor bullet manufacturers were able to definitively testify to the significance of an association made between bullets in the course of a bullet lead examination.

In 2006, Krause was released from prison after serving his entire sentence. He set about rebuilding his life, becoming a successful auto mechanic.

In 2007, the FBI agreed to form a Joint CBLA Task Force of criminal justice experts, including The Innocence Network, to identify cases where the introduction of CBLA evidence may have resulted in wrongful convictions.

The following year, in October 2008, Dr. D. Christian Hassell, Director of the FBI Laboratory, sent a letter to the Yavapai County Attorney’s office regarding Peele’s testimony in Krause’s trial. The letter said that after reviewing the testimony, “it is the opinion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory that the examiner (Peele) stated or implied that the evidentiary specimen(s) could be associated to a single box of ammunition. This type of testimony exceeds the limits of the science and cannot be supported by the FBI.”

Krause reached out to the Arizona Innocence Project, which began re-investigating his case. In 2012, his lawyers filed a post-conviction petition seeking to overturn his convictions, citing the evidence that CBLA was invalid. Moreover, the petition said that in 1991—five years before Krause’s trial—Peele authored an internal FBI report, which raised serious questions about the validity of CBLA.

Peele wrote that the lead composition of bullets manufactured as much as seven months apart and even from different manufacturers were found to have the same chemical composition—a “match.” In addition, Peele wrote that the compositional elements in ammunition varied greatly within each box of ammunition. In fact, Peele noted in the report that Winchester ammunition—the same type of ammunition in Krause’s case—had as many as a dozen different analytical compositions within a single box.

Peele, however, had not disclosed the existence of the report (the prosecution was unaware as well) at the time he testified. In fact, he told the jury that CBLA was a valid, reliable form of forensic evidence.

At an evidentiary hearing in 2013, Phil Locke, an accident reconstruction expert, testified that, based on his analysis of the trajectory of the bullet wound in Thurman’s head, “the muzzle of the weapon is going to have to be 10 to 27 feet above the surface of the roadway” to have fired the fatal shot. It would have been impossible, he testified, for Krause to have been in a position of that elevation. Another expert testified that based on his analysis, the fatal shot “was fired from the back seat” of the Jeep. The defense argued that based on this evidence, it was impossible for Krause to have fired at a Jeep speeding along the road from 50 feet away and strike Thurman in the head.

At the hearing, John Walker, who was Krause’s trial attorney, testified that because of Peele’s testimony, he pursed a defense that Krause accidentally shot Thurman. Walker said that had he been aware of the invalid nature of CBLA, he would have called witnesses who said they believed gunshots were fired from the Jeep when the vehicle passed their homes that day. Walker said he would have retained experts similar to those who testified at the evidentiary hearing.

However, in December 2013, Superior Court Judge Rick Williams denied the petition, ruling that the new evidence would not have changed the jury’s verdict because Krause admitted that he fired the shot that killed Thurman.

In November 2015, the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and granted Krause a new trial. The appeals court ruled that the CBLA evidence likely had a significant impact on the jury. “The state presented no evidence except the CBLA evidence that linked Krause to the lead fragments recovered from (the victim) and from the Jeep’s tire, or suggesting that the lead fragments were from bullets that had been fired from the same weapon,” the appeals court said. “And, even assuming the jury concluded the damage to the Jeep’s tire and rocker panel had been caused by .22-caliber bullets, law enforcement officers found only one shell casing near Krause’s location at the time of the shooting.”

The prosecution filed a request with the Arizona Supreme Court for permission to appeal the reversal of Krause’s convictions. The request was denied in July 2016.

On March 1, 2017, after the prosecution declined to retry Krause, the charges were dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/16/2017
State:Arizona
County:Yavapai
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:Attempt, Violent
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:10 years and 6 months
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:39
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No