Jury to decide fate of man accused of assaulting Breckenridge police officer
Friday was the final day of evidence presentation at the Nathan Finnegan trial at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge. The case has been handed over to the jury, which will decide the fate of the 22-year-old Minnesota native.
Finnegan, who is accused of assaulting Breckenridge police Officer Jennifer Kruse after driving while intoxicated and crashing his vehicle in July 2018, has been charged with first- and second-degree assault, criminal mischief, resisting arrest, driving under the influence, careless driving, two counts of violence and lesser charges of public property damage.
Chief Judge Mark Thompson presided over the courtroom. District Attorney Bruce Brown and deputy DA Stephanie Cava presented evidence for the state while Dillon-based attorneys Kevin Jensen and Everett Pritchard conducted Finnegan’s defense.
The day began with the defense introducing their final witness, nurse Jennifer Bustillos, who had tended to Finnegan the day he was booked into the Summit County Jail. The defense used Bustillos’ testimony to try to establish that Finnegan had a head injury that might have disoriented him, removing the possibility he had the state of mind and intent required for a first- or second-degree assault charge.
The defense established Bustillos as an expert in evaluating head injuries. Bustillos then testified that she evaluated Finnegan after he was initially treated at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center and booked at the jail. Bustillos recalled that Finnegan complained of headaches, spots in his eyes, as well as hearing and light sensitivity when she evaluated him.
Coupled with his medical charts from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center showing that Finnegan had been put into a medically-induced coma, Bustillos concluded that he had suffered a head injury. She said she gave Finnegan instructions to lie down with a shirt over his eyes along with earplugs to dampen the hearing and light-sensitivity issues, as well as providing typical counseling she would give to someone who had suffered a head injury.
The prosecution disputed the notion that Finnegan had suffered a head injury while attempting to throw Bustillos’ credibility into doubt. In her cross-examination, Cava got Bustillos to admit that she did not write down any of the head injury symptoms in her evaluation notes. Cava also got Bustillos to confirm that St. Anthony Summit did not diagnose Finnegan with a head injury when he was initially treated there, and that a CT scan came out negative for signs of a brain injury.
After Bustillos’ testimony ended, the state rested its case and the trial moved on to closing arguments. The main point of contention between the state and the defense was whether Finnegan intended to cause serious bodily injury to Kruse, which would determine guilt on the most serious charges.
Cava, on behalf of the state, insisted that Finnegan recognized Kruse as an officer and knew he was in trouble, giving him the requisite motivation and intent to want to do harm to her. Cava went on to say that Finnegan not only punched Kruse twice, but also strangled her, which she said was proved by signs of bruising on Kruse’s throat that showed up three days later. That was offered as proof of his intent to commit “serious bodily injury” required for either first- or second-degree assault charges.
Cava also accused Finnegan of leaving Kruse unconscious and bleeding on the road, showing the “extreme indifference” to her life required to convict for first-degree assault. Cava then summarized briefly the reason why the other charges — such as criminal mischief — applied before ending her appeal to the jury.
Jensen, who performed the closing for the defense, attempted a systematic dismantling of the state’s argument that Finnegan’s crime met the elements required for first- and second-degree assault on a peace officer.
Jensen said that the injuries Kruse sustained were neither life-threatening nor permanently disfiguring. Kruse was able to go back to full duties within two and a half weeks and does not appear to have any significant damage from her injuries. Jensen also argued to the jury that Finnegan could not intend to cause any serious bodily injury to her, as he was very intoxicated and incoherent and not in his right mind — and therefore intent was not possible.
Jensen also said that Brown, as an elected district attorney, was under a lot of pressure from the Breckenridge Police Department to “overcharge” Finnegan and get a conviction. That line of argument drew repeated objections from Brown, who felt it was not within the scope of the evidence and ultimately irrelevant.
Jensen also pointed out that the defense had asked for the lesser charges such as criminal mischief to be tacked on in order to give the jurors an opportunity to find guilt for the real crimes Finnegan committed.
In his rebuttal, Brown dismissed the voluntary request for lesser charges as a common defense tactic, and said that the jury should not be influenced by it. Brown also noted that their expert from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation found Finnegan’s DNA on Kruse’s holster, which he said was proof that Finnegan had reached for Kruse’s gun after assaulting her. That, Brown said, was more than enough evidence to find that Finnegan’s conduct created the “grave risk of death” required for a first-degree assault verdict.
After Brown’s rebuttal, all evidence had finally been submitted from both sides, and Judge Thompson turned the case over to the jury for a verdict. The most important question for the jury to decide is what was going through Finnegan’s head when he allegedly assaulted Kruse, and whether the state had presented enough evidence to show the requisite intent for serious bodily injury. As of press time, the jury was still deliberating.
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