Written by Devon Boen
Editor's note: This article reflects a correction regarding the defense's opening statement about whether Brian Doyle was standing at the crime scene as Bowen allegedly drove away or on the ground. The original published article said Doyle was on the ground. The defense did not state that. The defense stated Doyle was hunched over with his hands on his knees. Also, for clarification purposes, the article states that Diana Nelson did not mention her alleged conversation with Bowen to anyone until she was formally interviewed. It was revealed at the second day of trial that she may have relayed some portion of her knowledge with another witness prior to her interview. More information on that topic will appear in the next story.
“Brian Doyle died a long, slow, miserable death.”
Those chilly words echoed through Montana’s 15th Judicial District Courtroom on Monday, June 3, and marked the beginning of the prosecuting attorney team’s opening statement and the start of the long-awaited Charles Bowen trial.
Bowen was charged with negligent homicide back in January 2012 following the death of his friend and co-worker Brian Doyle. Doyle was found dead on U.S. Hwy. 2 Jan. 20 between
Bainville and Culbertson. An autopsy report showed he had been run over, but ultimately died of hypothermia. Bowen was allegedly with the victim the night of his death, but has maintained his innocence.
The trial was originally scheduled for June 11, 2012, but was pushed back after Charity McLarty, a lawyer from the public defender’s office, requested more time to provide the names of experts the defense might call to testify.
Nearly a year after the original trial date, the proceedings finally began. The rainy weather was synonymous with the grave mood surrounding the trial that started Monday morning. A pool of potential jurors slowly shuffled into the courtroom. The group was a roughly equal mixture of men and women. Most were middle-aged or older with the exception of a few young men and women.
Before jury selection, Bowen sat with his two public defenders, Cynthia Thornton and Lawrence LaFountain, along with investigators, while assistant attorneys general Dan Guzynski and Mary Cochenour, the prosecuting duo from Montana’s Attorney General’s Office, prepared on the other side of the room.
The prosecution kicked off jury selection. A few potential jurors were excused because they knew a witness or someone connected to the case. A few others were dismissed because they said they had already formed a strong opinion on the matter through various avenues of information. Three others were excused because they had extenuating circumstances that conflicted with the trial.
Both the prosecuting and defense teams questioned the jurors about their feelings on direct versus circumstantial evidence. The prosecution emphasized the importance of circumstantial evidence, while the defense tried to play down its merit. The defense asked jurors if they thought people only lied to cover something up or if they might lie for another reason, like fear. Most jurors agreed there were multiple reasons a person lied.
After a 20-minute recess, the defense and prosecuting teams agreed upon 12 jurors and one alternate. The group was made up of six women and six men, with one woman as an alternate. Just like the larger pool, most were middle-aged or older.
Cochenour opened for the prosecution. She started by painting a picture of Doyle’s death. She explained Doyle’s chest was crushed and his liver was lacerated, but emphasized those injuries didn’t cause his death, the cold did. She said, according to an expert’s opinion, Doyle didn’t die for two or three hours after being exposed to the reported single digit temperatures on Jan. 11, 2012. She said he wasn’t wearing a coat or proper clothing for the temperature.
According to the prosecution, Bowen and Doyle were longtime friends and both had moved to the area from Florida for work in the oil field Cochenour said Bowen called Diana Nelson, his ex-girlfriend, on Jan. 11, the last night Doyle was seen alive, and told her what happened between them. He allegedly said Doyle and he were having dinner in Williston, N.D., when Doyle became angry and they were kicked out of the establishment. Afterward, the two men went to Hardees and then started heading west.
Bowen told Diana Nelson he was driving with Doyle when Doyle attacked him. According to Cochenour, he and Doyle stepped out of the vehicle and began physically fighting. He allegedly told her that Doyle fell to the ground and that he jumped in his pickup truck and drove away. He also allegedly told Nelson that he may have struck Doyle with his vehicle. According to the prosecuting team, Bowen had an obligation to go back and check on Doyle, but he didn’t. Cochenour said Bowen told Nelson he was too scared to go back.
He allegedly asked Nelson to not tell anyone what he had said. And, until a Montana Department of Criminal Investigations investigator knocked on her door in Louisiana nearly a year later, she hadn’t said a word.
Cochenour said, besides Nelson’s testimony, three key pieces of evidence linked Bowen to Doyle’s death: a bloody beer can, a GPS device and a credit card receipt.
She said a full, not yet opened, beer can with traces of blood on it was found at the crime scene along with the GPS device and the receipt. She said a blood test indicated the blood belonged to Bowen. She said the GPS tracking device typically used in vehicles was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was registered to Bowen’s mother, who lived in Florida. And, finally, she said the credit card receipt was from Hardees in Williston at 9:01 p.m. The credit card belonged to Bowen.
Bowen initially alleged he had dropped off Doyle in a residential area in Williston, N.D., but the receipt provided evidence that Bowen may have been at the site of Doyle’s death at some point. The prosecutors said Bowen stressed he dropped Doyle off in North Dakota until they told him about the physical evidence linking him to the scene. They said, at that point, Bowen changed his story.
Defense Opening Statement
The prosecuting team rested and the defense addressed the jury. Defense attorney LaFountain opened the case by addressing two choices Bowen made after Doyle’s disappearance — ones that the prosecutors deemed incriminating.
Bowen bought all new tires for his truck and took it through a car wash. Prosecutors alleged it was an attempt to erase any physical evidence linking his vehicle to Doyle’s death. LaFountain argued that both acts were innocent. He stressed that it was normal to replace bald tires during a cold winter and that washing a car was nothing out of the ordinary.
Lafountain went on to explain a very different version of the events of Jan. 11. He, like the prosecutors, said Bowen and Doyle had dinner at an establishment and were asked to leave. He also said they went to Hardees. The story differs on what transpired during the drive between Bainville and Culbertson.
He said Doyle began punching Bowen and grabbing his hair before opening the door and jumping out of the vehicle. The defense explained Bowen’s blood dripped on the beer can in the vehicle after Doyle attacked him and when Doyle jumped out of the vehicle, multiple items, including the ones mentioned by the defense, fell out with him.
LaFountain said Bowen saw Doyle hunched over with his hands on his knees, but still standing, behind his vehicle. He said he stopped driving, but Doyle angrily told him to leave. Initially, Bowen did, but said he turned back around after a short amount of time. LaFountain said that when Bowen returned to the area, Doyle wasn’t there anymore.
LaFountain said a lot of speculation occurred after January 11, and via circumstantial evidence, Bowen became not a suspect, but the suspect. LaFountain also questioned the credibility of the defense’s witness, Diana Nelson, since investigators didn’t speak with her for months after Bowen allegedly called her on Jan. 11, 2012.
To close out the defense’s opening statement, LaFountain presented a recent trace analysis report that found no significant trace materials that would link any suspect’s vehicle to Doyle’s death. He also said a few key pieces of evidence that would be revealed later in the case supported the fact that Bowen was not guilty.
The prosecution called Allen Aspenlieder as its first witness. Aspenlieder said he was a department of transportation employee and discovered the body Jan. 20, 2012 while picking up debris on the side of the road. Aspenlieder told prosecutors he didn’t notice any footprints at the crime scene other than his and his brother’s, but also admitted they were more focused on the dead body they discovered than anything else.
He told the prosecutors he believed it had snowed two or three days before they found the body. He also told them he reported the temperature on the morning of Jan. 11 to be 17 degrees and 11 degrees later in the afternoon.
The defense cross-examined and asked him clarifying questions about the alleged snowfall a few days before Doyle was found and about his statement given to law enforcement.
Avis Ball, a Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office Corporeal, was the next witness called by the prosecution. Ball said she was the first responder to the call and spoke with Aspenlieder and his brother on scene. Ball was shown a picture of the scene and she confirmed there were two sets of tire tracks in the vicinity of the body – one set that was slightly covered in snow and one that was not.
She said she couldn’t determine how old the snow covered tracks were and she could not confirm if the newer tracks were made by the department of transportation vehicle that stopped earlier that day when Aspenlieder and his brother discovered the body.
While on scene, Ball took a video. The prosecution showed that video to the courtroom. Ball had zoomed in on Doyle’s body and other pieces of evidence on the ground. Doyle’s body and the other items were difficult to see with the snow cover.
The defense asked Ball if she kept her vehicle’s wheels on the pavement. She said she did, in order to preserve the crime scene and prevent making new tracks.
Sean Red Boy, a criminal investigator for the Fort Peck Tribes, was the next witness called. Red Boy told the prosecution he took pictures of the scene. He said he parked 100 feet from the body, but on closer inspection, he could see footprints and tire tracks nearby and saw marks on Doyle’s body that he speculated might be road rash. By this time, others had walked within a few feet of the body.
Red Boy told the defense he was thoroughly trained to work in crime scenes, so he didn’t make any new footprints or tire tracks.
The defense showed Red Boy a picture. Besides the two different tire tracks, there were multiple footprints — ones that appeared to be slightly covered in snow, and newer ones. Red Boy said he couldn’t determine the age of the snow-covered tire tracks or footprints.
Roosevelt County Undersheriff Jason Frederick was called to the stand next. Sheriff Freedom Crawford was out of town the day Doyle’s body was found, so Frederick had assumed all of Crawford’s duties. Frederick told the defense he made the decision to call Sean Red Boy to the scene and he, in conjunction with Crawford, decided to call the Montana Department of Criminal Investigations.
Frederick said he performed evidence collection and interviews to help with the case. He also told the defense he was present when Jeff Tucker, a former reporter for The Herald-News, asked Bowen how he felt about killing his friend after a court appearance last year, to which Bowen allegedly said, “It was an accident.”
In his cross-examination, Frederick told the defense he stayed five feet away from the body at all times in order to preserve evidence.
Shane Shaw was the next witness. Shaw is an investigator for the Montana Department of Criminal Investigation. He and one other investigator made their way up to the area following the discovery of Doyle’s body.
He told the prosecution he used a method of mapping a crime scene called triangulation upon his arrival and used bucket trucks to get an aerial view of the scene. Shaw said he had no opinions on what had happened at the scene after first arriving, except that he was positive the body was human.
He told the prosecutors a cell phone located on scene ended up having a phone number that belonged to Doyle. He said the phone was found about 100 feet from the body. He also said Doyle’s boots were found about 30 feet and 13 feet respectively from the body.
Shaw said they discovered $1,750 in cash on Doyle’s body and hat and gloves in his pocket.
The defense did not cross examine Shaw, but planned to call him back later in the trial.
Orin Cantrell, a Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Deputy, was the last witness called June 3. He told the defense he assisted in taking the body to Billings for an autopsy on Jan. 22. He said the body was still too frozen to complete the autopsy on the 22nd, so it was completed on Jan. 23.
The trial continues throughout the week. Diana Nelson’s key testimony is coming up and the defense has promised to provide evidence that will exonerate Bowen of guilt. Check out wolfpointherald.com for breaking web updates on the trial.