DALLAS — A Polk County jury found Dennis Sarver guilty of first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter and unlawful use of a weapon following three days of testimony last week.
Sarver, 62, of Salem, was found not guilty of murder in the death of Falls City resident Earl “Buddy” Jambura. Investigators found Jambura dead from a gunshot wound to the head in his car on Black Rock Road a few miles outside Falls City on June 9, 2018.
Sarver turned himself in to police after the shooting, driving from where the incident happened to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Dallas.
The jury issued the verdict on Thursday. It began deliberations on Wednesday afternoon after the conclusion of testimony.
“This is not a whodunit,” said Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton during his opening statement on Monday. “The question is why did he do it.”
Felton argued that Sarver’s intent that day was to kill Jambura.
“At some point, Mr. Sarver took a pistol, aimed it at Mr. Jambura and shot him in the head,” Felton said.
Sarver’s defense attorney Scott Howell said Sarver’s actions were in self-defense, based in fear that Jambura intended to harm him. He said it was the jury’s job to determine what happened in the time between when Sarver first encountered Jambura that day at the gate of his property and when the shooting occurred about 17 minutes later.
“You are going to have to fill in the blank as to what happened in 17 minutes, whether my client acted in self-defense or whether he intentionally killed Mr. Jambura,” Howell said.
While on the witness stand, Sarver said he and Jambura were longtime friends. He said had known Jambura, eight years his junior, since he was an infant. Their fathers played football together at Willamette University, and their families spent time together when they were growing up, he said.
Jambura and Sarver reconnected in 2017 when Jambura moved back to his family’s property in Falls City.
“I was going up to see him every now and then,” Sarver said.
However, they had not spoken since February 2018 when Sarver decided to drive from Newport, where he was looking for a rental, to Falls City to see his friend on June 9, 2018.
“I wanted to see if Buddy was still mad,” Sarver said.
Sarver said he didn’t know why Jambura was mad.
He said he found his answer as soon as he got out of his truck at the gate to his friend’s property.
“He jumped out of his car, mad, saying, ‘What are you doing here?’” Sarver said. “He had a hammer in his hand, swore at me, chased me back to my truck and threw it at me. It went over my head.”
Sarver said he got back into his truck and left the property. Jambura followed him in his vehicle. Sarver said he decided to drive to Falls City’s Upper Park to use the restroom, so turned on Mitchell Street toward the park. He said he expected Jambura to turn to the other way toward Falls City.
That didn’t happen.
“He followed me,” he said.
Sarver said he accelerated, hoping to leave Jambura behind but he continued to follow as Mitchell Street became Black Rock Road outside of town. Sarver said Jambura was driving aggressively, chasing him.
At one point, Sarver stopped and jumped out of his truck to talk to Jambura. He said Jambura threatened him, and threw beer bottles at him, so he got back into his truck and took off up the road again.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what the heck was wrong with him, why he was so agitated and mad at me,” Sarver said. “He’s on my bumper trying to pass me.”
Sarver said throughout his testimony he was afraid of Jambura and didn’t understand why he was so angry.
After the second confrontation, Sarver pulled his pistol from a backpack in the backseat of the truck. Sarver said he was concerned about his ability to protect himself against the younger, larger Jambura. He said he had health problems that limited him physically. Sarver said he didn’t know if Jambura had a weapon. Howell said that Jambura’s blood alcohol level was 0.08.
Sarver stopped at a gate on Black Rock Road and got out of his truck with the pistol in his hand.
“I told him not to get out of the car. He was starting to get out. I took a shot in his direction, jumped back in my truck and took off,” Sarver said. “I wasn’t really aiming at him. Just took a shot in his direction.”
Sarver said he wanted to scare Jambura so he would leave him alone.
“I loved Buddy,” he said. “He was like a little brother to me. I was surprised it got to that point. No one deserves to die like that. I feel really, really bad. I’ve known him my entire life. I didn’t want to kill him.”
Sarver turns himself in
Testimony from officers who had contact with Sarver after the shooting said he acted “distraught and despondent.”
“He made a statement that he wished he had shot himself,” said Dallas Sgt. Joshua Calef, who stayed with Sarver while his was detained at the sheriff’s office. “Several times on the time we spent together, he stated that he wanted to die.”
Calef and Sheriff’s Deputy Marty Watson testified to Sarver attempting suicide while using the bathroom at the sheriff’s office.
“I had my foot wedged into the door, so it was open so I could monitor him, but at the same point, he could have some privacy,” Watson said. “At one point when I was doing this, the door slammed shut. I immediately forced the door open and got around the other said.”
He said Sarver had a shoelace tied around his neck and he looped it over the coat hook on the door.
“I grabbed him, pinned him up against the door and started working to pull it off his chin,” Watson said.
He said Sarver struggled with him.
“I was able to get it up off his chin, away from his airway,” Watson said.
This wasn’t an accident
During cross-examination, Felton asked if Sarver could have turned his truck around and gone back to Falls City instead of shooting Jambura.
Sarver said no.
“I didn’t think I had any other options,” Sarver said. “He was trying to run me off the road.”
Sarver said he threw the gun out of his truck’s window on the way back to Falls City.
When he arrived back in Falls City and had cellphone reception again, Sarver called his daughters, Katy Martin and Jessica Kirkpatrick, to tell them what had happened. Martin called 911 and a dispatcher contacted Sarver.
In his closing arguments, Felton said Sarver sat at the intersection of Sixth and Mitchell for about a minute. He said Sarver could have avoided the confrontation if he had turned toward Falls City instead of driving toward the park.
Felton asserted that Sarver could have driven away On Black Rock Road without shooting Jambura and questioned why he didn’t seek help for his friend.
“He didn’t check to see if he was all right,” Felton said. “He just drove to Dallas to turn himself in.”
Felton argued that Sarver brought the gun with the intent to kill, and he lured Jambura out to Black Rock Road to shoot him.
“This wasn’t an accident. ... He didn’t go to check on him. He didn’t stop somewhere to say, ‘I need help for my friend who may be hurt real bad.’ He knew exactly what happened. He turned himself in,” Felton said. “I don’t doubt as he started thinking about it later, he had some remorse. But these charges aren’t about what happened afterwards.”
Sarver’s sentencing is scheduled for Friday at 1 p.m.