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Defense expert blames lack of intruder evidence in triple homicide case on police dog, K-9 officer
CEDAR RAPIDS — An expert on police dogs said the dog that couldn’t pick up a track for the alleged intruder that Alexander Jackson said fled his home after killing his family doesn’t mean that suspect didn’t exist.
Kyle Heyen, a former law enforcement officer who now consults on civil and criminal cases involving police dog training and handling, said the Cedar Rapids Police canine, Korsa, couldn’t track for a suspect because she was panting too much and not breathing or smelling through her nose.
The dog was breathing heavily through her mouth, and dogs can’t smell through their mouth, he said, which is opposite of what K-9 Officer Curt Buckles said during testimony last week.
Heyen, who lives in Custer, S.D., said the dog was probably too “worked up, excited or stressed” from being in the house and smelling gunpowder, or was just overheated. He pointed out in Buckles’ body camera video, played last week for the jury, various portions that show the dog wasn’t sniffing through her nose.
Heyen was the first witness for the defense Friday. The prosecution rested in the morning. The trial started last week. The defense will continue its case Monday and closings could be Tuesday.
Jackson is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of fatally shooting his father, Jan Perry Jackson, 61; mother, Melissa Ferne Jackson, 68; and sister, Sabrina Hana Jackson, 19, on June 15, 2021, in their northeast Cedar Rapids home.
Before the tracking to find the alleged intruder even started, Heyen pointed on the video that Korsa was rapidly panting — that’s how dogs try to cool off. He criticized Buckles for taking Korsa on the concrete when starting to track because that surface would be hotter than a grassy area.
Heyen said dogs track ground disturbance odors, not human scent, the amount and age — when someone walked in the area — of disturbances.
Tyler Johnston, Jackson’s lawyer, said Buckles testified they could track human scent, but Heyen said that was wrong.
Heyen, in another part of the video, said Korsa went off to the side, put her head down and was sniffing through her nose, but Buckles didn’t follow her out. Instead, he pulled her back, correcting her. Korsa may have been trying to track something, he said.
Heyen showed on the video that the dog was still heavily panting as it came close to the Jackson house. He said Buckles should have stopped the track for the dog’s sake. Korsa was too hot and couldn’t track, he added.
Johnston asked Heyen if more time from the event affects the odor.
Heyen said it did. The odor on grass lessens over time.
Heyen also discredited Buckles for having Korsa start a track away from the home and then moving toward the house. Heyen said he would have started 10 feet from the house, since Jackson said the intruder ran from the back, and then moved farther into the backyard.
On cross, Assistant Linn County Attorney Jordan Schier asked Heyen if it was 1991 when he last handled a dog as a certified canine officer.
Heyen said yes.
Schier said wasn’t it true that Heyen dsiagreed with the standards of national police dog organizations that most dogs and handlers go through for training and certifications.
Heyen said he didn’t agree because they don’t have the proper training. He agrees with the German standards, where Heyen trained, and some other organizations that use strict standards.
Schier asked if Heyen said dogs can’t smell human odor.
Heyen said he didn’t say that. He said they can smell human odor on a track of ground disturbances, not over concrete or gravel.
Schier then pointed out some studies that found dogs can track human odor on concrete and that human odor can fall off a person on a track area.
In other defense testimony, Levi Gritton, a former Boy Scout leader, said Jackson earned his Eagle Scout badge in 2017. He had known Jackson since 2014.
Gritton said Jackson received 34 merit badges during his time in Boy Scouts. Those included ones for citizenship in the community, camping, archery, communication, family life, fingerprinting, first aid, rifle shooting and many others.
Gritton said Jackson was proficient with a .22 caliber rifle — like the gun used to kill his family.
He said Jackson was responsible and he counted on Jackson to help mentor the younger scouts during activities.
Schier, on cross-examination, asked when was the last time he had contact with Jackson.
Gritton said 2017. He said he wasn’t familiar with what kind of relationship Jackson had with his father and sister.
Schier asked if being prepared in any situation was part of being an Eagle Scout, and Gritton agreed.
A friend of Jackson’s, Ryan Burrack, 21, a University of Northern Iowa student, said he and Jackson hung out a lot playing board and video games online. He thought of Jackson as a being mild mannered. Jackson wasn’t a violent person. They were both in band together at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, with Burrack playing saxophone and Jackson the flute.
Burrack said he and Jackson played video games online June 14, 2021, the night before the murders, until 11 p.m.
They usually played board games or card games online but also played Halo and other shooting games a few times a week, he said.
First Assistant Linn County Attorney Monica Slaughter, on cross-examination, asked if Burrack had different viewpoints than Jackson, Burrack said he did.
Slaughter asked if he ever saw Jackson fighting with his sister or arguing with his dad. Burrack said he didn’t.
Slaughter then asked if Jackson had ever told him his sister was bisexual.
Burrack said no.
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