HomeTop StoriesNine witnesses called on first day

Nine witnesses called on first day

Aug. 23—The first day of the first-degree murder for James R. Brashear began Tuesday with the prosecution bringing out nine witnesses and the defense outlining its case challenging that the murder was premeditated.

There were about 40 people in the courtroom, mostly family and friends of the victim, John Mast, as well as individuals recording and livestreaming the trial from Dad Talk Today, a podcasting group.

Brashear entered the courtroom at the Nez Perce County Courthouse wearing a suit and tie, and one man stood in support as Brashear walked in. Second District Judge Mark Monson told those in the courtroom that he wasn’t going to allow any disruptions or outbursts from those watching the trial. Those who do will be asked to leave the courtroom.

Brashear, 69, of Winchester, is charged in the shooting death of 40-year-old Mast, of Williston, N.D., on Feb. 5, 2021, in the Rosauers parking lot in Lewiston. Mast was Brashear’s ex-son-in-law and was in a custody dispute with his daughter, Rebecca Brashear-Mast, for their children, Brashear’s grandchildren. Mast was also accused, but never charged, with abusing the children.

The prosecution, led by Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman and Chief Deputy Prosecutor April Smith, then called Mast’s two siblings, his sister, Betty Troyer, and his brother, Steven Mast, who were there when Mast was shot and killed.

Both siblings said they came to Lewiston to help with the custody exchange. Steven Mast arrived at the Rosauers parking lot at 5:30 p.m. and then Troyer arrived.

Troyer testified that she got into the car of Steven Mast, who was driving to find another parking spot in order to have a better vantage point of the custody exchange. Then they saw a vehicle and thought it was Brashear-Mast, but it was Brashear driving his daughter’s car. Troyer got out of the car to help John Mast while Steven Mast kept driving.

Troyer said Brashear walked up to John Mast, said “hi John” and started shooting from about 8-10 feet away, and she was 2-3 feet away from John Mast. Steven Mast testified that John Mast was getting car seats ready for the children when he was shot.

Troyer testified that Brashear’s demeanor was “calm and deliberate” and at first she thought Brashear was shooting at both of them.

“I wasn’t sure what was happening,” she said.

When Steven Mast testified, he said he didn’t get his car parked and watched as Brashear walked toward John Mast.

“The second I saw him he was raising his gun to shoot,” Steven Mast said. “It was that fast.”

Troyer and Steven Mast said that John Mast ducked and ran about 80-100 feet toward Rosauers and Troyer called 911. She testified that she kept her eyes on Brashear so he wouldn’t get away, but he told her to “go ahead and call the cops” and then walked back to his vehicle.

Once Brashear was back at the car, Troyer went to John Mast, who was slumped by a car with Steven Mast, who had gotten out of his vehicle after the shooting and ran to John Mast.

When asked what John Mast looked like, Troyer replied, “you could tell it wasn’t good.”

Steven Mast said he saw two bullet entries, one in his chest and another in his stomach. But John Mast was conscious and he squeezed Troyer’s hand several times. She then called their parents so they could talk with him. The Mast siblings kept John Mast calm until the ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital. The Mast siblings stayed to talk with law enforcement and later went to the hospital, where a doctor told them John Mast had died.

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Smith asked Troyer how she felt in the moments of the shooting. She said she felt “anger that that happened and concerned that John was OK.”

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee asked a few questions in cross examination of Steven Mast. Bugbee said that when Steven Mast was testifying about the moment Brashear shot John Mast, he moved his right hand toward his waist on the witness stand. He asked if that movement was consistent with the way Brashear moved with the gun. Steven Mast said he didn’t know where the gun came from. Bugbee asked if he saw Brashear get his gun from his waistband holster and Steven Mast said he didn’t see Brashear reach for his gun — he just saw that Brashear was pointing the gun at John Mast “like a shooter.”

The jury heard from the dispatcher who worked at the Lewiston Police Department at the time of the shooting. Janette Schaffner took the call from Troyer and a copy of the recording was submitted as evidence and then the recording was played.

In the recording, Troyer’s voice can be heard frantically saying that someone shot her brother. She tells the dispatcher that he’s bleeding and says to John Mast, “stay with us” and “I love you.” The sound of John Mast groaning in the background of the call could also be heard. Several family members and friends of John Mast began crying when the recording was played.

The prosecution then had testimony from first responders who arrived at the scene. The first person to arrive on scene was Nez Perce County Sheriff deputy Darin McKenzie, who was a block away from the Rosauers parking lot. He located John Mast and didn’t see anyone running or shooting and so he grabbed his medic bag and began first aid. McKenzie asked who shot John Mast and was told the suspect was standing by a vehicle and then he saw Brashear. An officer with the Lewiston Police Department arrived and McKenzie pointed him in the direction of Brashear.

Kyle Greene, who works at the Lewiston Fire Department, testified as a medic who responded to the scene. He said that once the area was declared safe the ambulance arrived and took John Mast to the hospital. John Mast was able to tell them that his name was John and that he was having difficulty breathing. Greene said that John Mast had three bullet wounds, one in the center of his chest, another in the center of his abdomen. As the ambulance was driving to the hospital John Mast’s condition grew worse, with his breathing, blood pressure and pulse, and the medics performed CPR on him until they arrived at the hospital, where he later died.

A Lewiston police officer, Sgt. Craig Roberts, also testified about arriving at the scene and seeing another officer, who had a man, later identified as Brashear, face down in front of his vehicle. Brashear was handcuffed, searched for additional weapons, which he didn’t have, and taken to a patrol car. During cross examination from Bugbee, Roberts confirmed he was not the officer whot took Brashear to the police station and that Brashear was compliant during his arrest.

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At the trial, Roberts showed a diagram of the parking lot to the jury depicting where vehicles were and where evidence was located. The diagram was created with a process that uses lasers to measure distance during an investigation. The shooting took place in the northwest corner of the parking lot near the library book drop. He testified that the distance between the driver’s side door of Brashear’s vehicle and John Mast’s vehicle was 88 feet, 6 inches, and the distance between John Mast’s vehicle and where he was located was 119 feet, 6 inches.

Capt. Rick Fuentes with the Lewiston Police Department testified about the evidence that was collected at the scene. The evidence, including three spent shell casings and one unspent one, as well as a Glock 19, were handed to Fuentes and admitted as evidence. As Fuentes spoke about the evidence, he noted where it was located on the diagram created by Roberts.

Fuentes said the three spent shell casings were in close proximity to each other near John Mast’s vehicle and the unspent shell casing, meaning it had not been fired, was close to the other shell casings. Under questioning from Bugbee, Fuentes said he knew the unspent round hadn’t been fired because there was no strike on the primer, which meant there was no attempt to fire that round.

A Glock 19 was also found on the hood of Brashear’s vehicle at the scene. Fuentes said the firearm was intact, meaning the magazine hadn’t been removed, but there was no bullet in the round.

Bugbee asked about the process to remove or intentionally discharge a round and Fuentes said there is a mechanism that allows a bullet to be taken out and can also be locked to prevent more firing. Bugbee asked if the firearm was in this position, meaning the locked position, when Fuentes found it on Brashear’s vehicle, which Fuentes confirmed.

Fuentes also told Bugbee that the magazine held 17 rounds and he counted 13, which confirmed the number of casings found at the scene.

The prosecution also showed the jury evidence from surveillance video from Rosauers and from dash camera footage from a Rosauers shopper. Chris Wright, front end manager at Rosauers, testified and provided surveillance video to investigators. The video of the shooting was submitted into evidence and shown to the jury.

Another video was from Matthew Klein, who was in the Rosauers parking lot as a customer. He testified that he has a dash camera on his vehicle, which was in use on the night of the shooting. He provided the footage to investigators and it was played for the jury and contained audio of three gunshots.

Before the testimony, both the prosecution and the defense gave opening statements. In the opening statement for the prosecution Smith said that the evidence will show that Brashear “assassinated” John Mast at the Rosauers parking lot when there was supposed to be a custody exchange. Smith said that Brashear arrived early and then walked up to John Mast, got his attention and then shot him.

“(Brashear) decided to kill, got prepared and laid in wait at the Rosauers parking lot,” Smith said.

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The prosecution also played video from a police interview after the shooting where Brashear describes shooting John Mast. Smith said that Brashear was “calm, cool and collected” despite having recently shot John Mast.

She argued that premeditated means that Brashear thought about it before and decided to commit the murder. Smith told the jury that the evidence presented will prove that the murder was committed in this way as Brashear waited for his opportunity to kill John Mast.

“The state asks you (speaking to the jury) to find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder,” Smith said.

Bugbee also gave opening statements to the jury for about an hour.

“This is not a whodunit,” Bugbee said, saying that the defense isn’t trying to prove that Brashear didn’t commit the murder.

He said that instead the case is about the premeditation and “malice aforethought” parts of the first-degree murder charge that the jury will have to deliberate on, and asked the jury to keep an open mind. He outlines that his case to the jury will be to prove that the murder wasn’t premeditated and alluded to Brashear testifying.

“You are going to hear from James Brashear and you will understand what was going on in his mind,” Bugbee said.

Bugbee noted Brashear’s personal history, including his military service in the Vietnam war, and that he remains devoted to his wife, children and grandchildren. Bugbee also told the jury the events that led to the shooting that day including the news that John Mast was going to have unsupervised weekend custody of the Brashear-Mast’s and Mast’s children.

Brashear and Brashear-Mast then tried to get a protection order to prevent the visit but it was a Friday and the court wouldn’t have been able to have a hearing on it until Monday. As Brashear-Mast got the children ready for the visit, they became very upset and were crying and screaming. The children asked Brashear to help them, which Bugbee said had a “tremendous effect on his state of mind.”

Bugbee then said Brashear lost track of time as he drove to the Rosauers parking lot in his daughter’s vehicle, arguing that he was in a state of despair thinking about “what had and would occur during that visit.” Bugbee also said that Brashear’s wife as well as Brashear-Mast were both concerned about his state of mind during this time.

Bugbee also noted that Brashear has a concealed pistol permit and he regularly carries it. Bugbee argued that the weapon was brought to the custody exchange, not to commit murder, but “he had it because he has it.”

Bugbee argued that Brashear was overcome with emotions and was worried about the safety of his grandchildren and wanted to protect them. The time from when the children asked for his help and when the shooting took place was about 20 minutes, showing that it wasn’t enough time for premeditation and malice aforethought.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today with more testimony presented by the prosecution. The trial was expected to last seven days but Coleman said with the number of witnesses the prosecution went through on the first it is ahead of schedule.

Brewster may be contacted at [email protected] or at (208) 848-2297.

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