Christopher Strawn’s life is now in his own hands.
On Monday, Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige finished building the state’s case against Strawn, who has been accused of the Oct. 20, 2015, murder of Brandon Cook.
Starting Tuesday, Strawn will present his defense. After that, the case will go to the jury.
This is Strawn’s second trial for the crime. The first trial ended with a mistrial, and after that mistrial, Strawn decided to defend himself.
Strawn faces charges of first-degree and second-degree murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, third-degree assault and weapons misconduct. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in jail.
Monday was the start of the trial’s third week, and Paige saved some of her most compelling witnesses for last. Two weeks ago, eyewitness Tiffany Johnson told jurors she watched as Cook toppled over, dead, after a shotgun blast fired by Strawn. Johnson, who formerly sold firearms in the sporting goods department of Walmart, said Strawn held a shortened shotgun with a pistol-like grip.
Despite extensive searches, police never found that gun.
On Monday, Aileen Sanchez testified that three months before Cook’s murder, Strawn showed her “a long-barreled firearm.”
“It was a shotgun,” she said after a question from Paige.
When police searched Strawn’s home after Cook’s murder, they found a rifle and pieces of a shotgun buttstock, but no shotgun.
When granted a chance to question Sanchez, Strawn passed her a copy of an evidence photo showing the rifle taken from his home.
“This isn’t the one I remember seeing,” she said. “I don’t believe that this is the firearm that we’re talking about.”
Strawn pressed her further, asking her to identify the rifle.
“It looks like a shotgun, a single-barrel shotgun, but like I said, I’m not an expert,” she said.
As Strawn pressed her further about her ability to identify firearms, she grew frustrated.
“I honestly feel like you’re dancing in circles,” she said. “I’m letting you know descriptively as best as I can my accounts. I don’t know what you’re trying to do here.”
After Sanchez left the stand, Paige called a Strawn neighbor, Jesse Linhart, to testify. Strawn occasionally worked odd jobs for Linhart, and about a week before Cook’s death, Strawn called Linhart over to his yard.
Strawn tried to convince Linhart to buy something from him, then abruptly changed the subject.
“He was going to kill somebody if he couldn’t see his next child,” Linhart said.
Strawn told him that he was having personal problems, was expecting to be a father again, and things weren’t going well.
It wasn’t a joke.
“The tone was threatening,” Linhart said.
In a conference with Judge Philip Pallenberg, and out of the earshot of jurors, Strawn tried to have Linhart barred from serving as a witness.
“He is absolutely a hostile witness, and he’s biased,” Strawn argued, but Pallenberg overruled Strawn’s objections.
He did instruct Paige to keep the questions narrow and ordered Linhart to keep his answers narrow as well.
After his testimony, Strawn asked him to stay available. He may call Linhart back to the stand as he mounts his own defense, something expected to begin at 8:30 a.m. in Dimond Courthouse.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or 523-2258.