David Easter takes the stand

Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Defendant claims he saw man reach for a gun on night of fatal shooting

By Sarah Stultz and Sam Wilmes

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The Brownsdale man charged with murdering a rural Freeborn County man last August at Myre-Big Island State Park claimed in court Wednesday that he saw the other man reach for the barrel of a gun in his car before he shot him in self-defense.

The testimony, by David Michael Easter, 27, stood in contrast to audio played earlier in the trial from the 911 call Easter made to dispatchers after the shooting at 9:15 p.m. Aug. 23. In that call, Easter reportedly claimed he had shot Spencer Daniel Brown, 23, in self-defense after Brown approached him with what appeared to be a bat.

Brown was found dead in his locked 2001 Audi station wagon in the east side of a parking lot near Big Island pavilion. He suffered two gunshot wounds to the head.

Authorities found a golf club on the floor of his passenger seat near his right hand.

David Easter

Freeborn County Attorney David Walker questioned whether Easter would have been able to see through the windows of Brown’s 2001 Audi station wagon, which were earlier in the trial identified as having illegal window tint — allowing only 16 percent of light to be transmitted.

Easter testified to locking eyes with Brown as he stood next to the car looking through the window during questioning with public defender Adrianne McMahon.

“I saw the barrel of that gun and the motion of him using that gun,” Easter said, noting he thought Brown was going to use it against him.

At that point, Easter said he shot his pistol two times before running back to his truck and yelling at his wife to call 911. He said he wanted help for Brown and help for his family.

Easter said he had been at Myre-Big Island State Park with his wife and baby since about 6 p.m. the night of Aug. 23. He and his wife had gone to the state park to smoke salmon and enjoy the state park as a family. They ended up at Big Island pavilion in case of rain later that evening.

After they had finished smoking the salmon, he and his family were the only ones at the park when he noticed another vehicle pull up through the entrance to the parking lot. At that point, Easter said he was standing outside of the pavilion, and saw the lights shut off on the car as it continued into the parking lot.

Seeing this, he said, caught his attention. Though it was dark at the time — with no lights in the parking lot and only overhead lighting in the pavilion — he said he was able to make out the outline of the vehicle. He saw the car enter the parking lot and ultimately stop in front of his pickup, where it stayed for 30 seconds to a minute.

At that time, he said, he went from “curious to uneasy.” After that short period, the car made a hard left and parked across from the truck.

As he continued to watch, he said he saw a person step out of the driver’s side of the vehicle. He couldn’t tell if the person was a man or a woman and couldn’t see anything in the person’s hand. The person reportedly walked toward the trunk of the vehicle and then shouted something that he could not hear.

Easter said it startled him.

After shouting, the person walked up the trailhead onto the grass, a little closer to the pavilion. Easter said the person shouted something again. He caught the last part of what was said: “Hey (expletive).”

Easter said the uneasy feeling he had turned into more of a scared feeling and he looked around to see if there was someone else with the person.

The person then reportedly walked the other direction toward the woods where a restroom building is located and disappeared on the back side of the building.

At that point, Easter said he told his wife, who was breastfeeding their baby, that they needed to go.

“I was at that point scared,” he said. “I didn’t want to be around this person.”

As they left to walk toward their truck, he said he saw the man reappear from behind the building at a quick pace. Easter said he went from “a scared feeling to kind of a freaked-out feeling.”

He motioned his wife to walk off the path toward their truck with their baby and tried to put the person’s focus on only him.

Easter said the person stopped at the trailhead and shouted the same phrase as before.

“That scared the (expletive) out of me,” Easter said.

Easter said he didn’t want to turn his back to the person for safety reasons, and as they got closer, the person said he had something for him.

The person, later identified as Brown, ultimately got in his car, got into the driver’s seat, grasped the steering wheel and looked at him and said, “I have something for you, (expletive).”

Brown then closed the door, and Easter said he reportedly saw him reach for a gun.

When asked how he felt after shooting Brown, Easter said he felt distressed. He said he remembers bits and pieces of the 911 call he placed and that he talked about a bat in that call to get help as soon as he could for Brown and his own family.

Easter said he has been carrying a gun since 2011, after obtaining his conceal and carry permit in Nebraska. He has lived in Minnesota since 2012 and said he has not looked into whether that Nebraska permit would be valid in the state.

He said he took his pistol everywhere, everyday, except for places it was not allowed — such as churches — and said he didn’t consider some places to be safer than others.

He didn’t give a second thought to having it at the state park that day. Guns were not allowed at the park.

Witnesses have testified the two men did not know each other prior to the shooting.

Closing arguments made

Closing arguments in the trial were delivered Wednesday afternoon. Public defender Adrianne McMahon claimed the state had not met its burden of proof in the case, while Walker said Easter’s guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that Easter did not act reasonably and was not justified when he shot Brown twice in the head.

“Spencer Brown didn’t deserve to die,” he said. “He shouldn’t have been killed.

“David Michael Easter committed murder in the second degree.”

Walker said Easter intended to kill Brown by voluntarily firing the .45-caliber pistol used in the shooting.

McMahon said the tragic nature of the incident did not mean that Easter committed murder. Though the family is entitled to harbor certain feelings about the incident, she said there were no bad people involved in the shooting.

“When there’s an untimely death, we want there to be a bad guy,” she said. “We want there to be a villain.

“Tragedy is not a crime. Tragedy is tragedy.”

McMahon said the state needed to prove Easter was guilty of murder.

“Dave (Easter) doesn’t have to prove he acted in self-defense,” she said. “The state has to prove he wasn’t acting in self-defense.”

The state did not present facts that it promised to when the trial began, McMahon said. She disputed that Brown was unarmed, saying his hand was on a golf club, and he had a box cutter and a hatchet in his vehicle. McMahon used a Powerpoint presentation to show statements officers who testified for the state made about the presence of the golf club near Brown’s hand. She expressed doubt that Easter was shifting the vehicle before his death and that his foot was on the brake.

Though a definitive distance is unknown of how far Easter was away from Brown when he shot him, the range was “very close,” Walker said. 

He said Easter was inconsistent with the facts of the case and questioned the credibility of Easter’s testimony based on him not directly answering whether he had seen the side of Brown’s head before he fired the shots. McMahon said Easter was being technical when he did not answer the question.

Walker claimed Easter lied on the stand when he said he fired both shots while in the same stance and cited testimony by Ramsey County assistant medical examiner Victor Froloff that one shot had been fired from an intermediate distance and another had come from more of a distant range. Walker said Easter moved toward the station wagon during the shooting.

“These are the elements of second-degree murder,” Walker said.

“The defendant did not shoot Spencer Brown in self-defense.”

He said messages Brown sent to friends within the hour of his death showed that he was happy and did not match Easter’s description of Brown as a threat. McMahon disputed Walker’s interpretation that Brown was happy based on the text messages that stated his frustration about a pending move back to Omaha, his words that he was happier than he had been in a long time and his description of his living situation with Neal and Lisa Gjersvik, the parents of his ex-girlfriend.

“This is not someone in a good mood,” McMahon said.

“He’s not happy on this night. He’s not happy in this conversation.”

Discrepancies between Easter’s initial claim that Brown left the vehicle with a bat and his later claim that he thought Brown had a gun in the vehicle were due to stress he faced following the shooting, McMahon said. She said though it was later established that Brown did not have a gun, Easter did not know that at that time.

“Any reasonable person would be freaked out, any reasonable person would be scared,” she said.

“That’s natural.”

Easter did not act in a way to avoid death or bodily harm, Walker said. He questioned whether Brown would have threatened Easter based on the size difference between the two men and a lack of weaponry in his vehicle.

Walker said there was no evidence other than Easter’s testimony that Brown left the station wagon during the incident. He questioned whether Brown was reaching for a golf club since the vehicle was in reverse and the emergency brake was on, and he said the scene of the shooting did not match Easter’s claim of being threatened.

Walker discussed the 911 call Easter made after the shooting.

“You show more emotion on the stand than you did in this call, less than a minute after he just shot somebody,” he said. Walker noted that Easter did not suffer a physical assault during the incident and Brown did not approach the pavilion the Easter family was at or prevent the family from leaving the scene.

McMahon noted differences between the report officers received from dispatchers to what Easter reported to dispatchers. She said the discrepancies clouded the investigation officers conducted and claimed officers should have conducted a more thorough investigation.

“One narrative makes sense with the evidence,” she said. “All the evidence supports Dave’s testimony.”

Walker said the discrepancies did not frame the investigation.

Jury deliberations were expected to begin Thursday morning.

See related stories:

Friends testify Easter was ‘laid back,’ ‘mellow’

Medical examiner: Shot fired a couple inches to a couple feet away from man

Was man’s hand on golf club before his death?

Officers first on scene after shooting share what they witnessed

Jury hears 911 call from defendant the night of Brown’s death

Couple testifies to hearing gunshots night of state park shooting

Jury visits scene of shooting death in murder trial

Prosecutor, defense lawyers deliver opening remarks in murder trial

Jury selection complete, murder trial to begin today

Authorities investigating homicide at state park