Lauver guilty of terroristic threats

LEWISTOWN — Following a six-hour trial, a 12-member jury found Nathan Lauver, 37, of Lewistown, guilty of one first-degree misdemeanor count of terroristic threats and acquitted Lauver of simple assault and false imprisonment, both misdemeanor counts.

Mifflin County District Attorney Christopher Torquato presented four witnesses and three exhibits of evidence during the trial. Carrie Dennis testified she and Lauver were living together in May of 2018 and the two of them were intensely arguing in their upstairs bedroom on the 20th of that month. Dennis read aloud screenshots of Facebook messages from the day of the incident, exchanged between her niece and herself, that indicated she was a hostage and asking her niece to bring her father and not to call police. Dennis also read aloud her written statement to police that said Lauver became aggressive, took her phone and threatened one of her nieces. Despite these recitations, Dennis testified neither the content of the electronic communication or her written statement was true, even though she had signed the written statement in the presence of police.

Lauver, representing himself, cross-examined Dennis, who testified she had dramatized the situation to her niece via Facebook Messenger. Lauver also eluded through his questioning that Dennis’ written statement was different than her verbal statement to police because her niece, Alexis Hayes, had told her what to write.

Hayes testified she did not coach Dennis on what to document in her written statement, adding that they were in different parts of the kitchen with two separate officers when they wrote their statements. Hayes reviewed the Facebook messages previously read by Dennis to confirm the communication between the two of them and testified that Lauver threatened to kill Dennis more than once while they were all upstairs and he also threatened to kill Hayes if she called the police. Hayes said she observed Lauver choke and “beat” Dennis and burn her with a cigarette. She also noted that Lauver was fixated on an opened pocket knife while threatening to kill Dennis. Hayes testified that Lauver had two pocket knives in his hands, with one blade extended, but did not have the knife in hand when he assaulted Dennis.

Gregory Bashem, Dennis’ landlord at the time of the incident, testified that he heard a muffled argument next door, but when he went to the door, he heard a male voice say, “I’ll kill you.” Bashem testified that a female unknown to him at the time answered the door and said he could not come in because Lauver had a knife and would kill Dennis, so Bashem said he opted to call 911.

Lauver questioned whether or not Bashem could hear through the insulated walls and had Bashem read his written statement aloud, confirming that it had been completed and signed on May 23, three days after the incident.

Officer Charles Miller, of the Lewistown Police Department, was the final witness for the prosecution, who testified that he and Officer Kenneth McLaughlin had responded to the incident in question. Miller testified that Hayes greeted them at the door and said “go get him” before leaving the residence and that Lauver seemed agitated while Dennis was observed crying. Miller also testified that he recovered four pocket knives from Lauver’s person. Miller stated procedure required Lauver and Dennis to be separated for officers to take their verbal statements and that, after taking their statements, he and McLaughlin initially decided that no charges were necessary, if Lauver agreed to leave the residence. Miller then testified that Hayes advised him Lauver had threatened Dennis with one of the knives they had recovered, which Hayes identified. Miller also testified that Dennis told him Lauver would not allow her to leave the residence and that he had threatened her. The officer said law required Lauver be arrested on terroristic threats and simple assault charges, based on Dennis’ and Hayes’ statements.

Lauver cross-examined Miller and the officer testified that Lauver was compliant to their search and cooperative overall, that he had no weapons in his hands when they arrived and that Dennis had no injuries consistent with Hayes’ report.

After the prosecution rested, Lauver entered four exhibits into evidence and re-called Hayes. Lauver asked Hayes if Dennis had offered her money to pay off fines in another county, in exchange for her withdrawing her statement to police and if she had ever expressed negative feelings to his mother about his daughter, who was in her parents’ custody. Hayes responded that she turned down the alleged bribe from Dennis and that she loved his daughter like a sister. Lauver had Hayes read another screenshot of Facebook messages between Dennis and her, which mentioned she was not being treated fairly and eluded to her wanting money for her fines.

Lauver also re-called Dennis, who testified that she told Hayes, after the incident, that her hostage claim was false and that Hayes had not witnessed Lauver threatening her, nor assault her in any way. Dennis also testified that Lauver had never stopped her from leaving or took her phone. Dennis further stated that she tried to recant her statement, but police told her she couldn’t, adding that Torquato told her she could be charged for lying to police.

During cross-examination, Torquato confirmed with Hayes that she turned down the alleged bribe from Dennis and he also questioned Dennis about the validity of her statements.

Lauver’s final witness was his mother, Lynette Peeler, who testified that Dennis and Hayes had visited her around the time of the incident and that Hayes had expressed jealousy and “a lot of contempt” toward Lauver’s daughter during that visit. Peeler also testified that Hayes told her that she wanted $1,000 for her fines in another county in exchange for withdrawing her statement to police. Torquato cross-examined Peeler, confirming that, as Lauver’s mother, she did not want to see him in trouble and asked her why she didn’t report the alleged bribe to police. Peeler said she told Lauver’s court-appointed attorney of the alleged bribe, who did not advise her to call police but did say she could testify to it in court.

Torquato re-called Hayes as a rebuttal witness and confirmed that the fines in question were for a traffic ticket, that both Peeler and Dennis had offered her the money to pay the fines in exchange for her withdrawing her statement and that Dennis had harassed her via electronic communication to take back what she had told police.

During closing statements, Lauver indicated a lot of the testimony given “didn’t make sense,” questioning Bashem’s recollection based on when he provided his statement and focusing mostly on Hayes’ various testimonies. Lauver also advised the jury that Dennis was risking a lot to change her statement in open court. Lauver said the prosecution seemed indifferent to the actual facts and the inconsistencies in the various testimonies are more than enough for reasonable doubt.

Torquato simply asked the jury to consider who they want to believe, affirming that Hayes’ testimony was credible, that Bashem had no reason to provide false testimony and they needed to evaluate what they heard and consider what each witness had to gain by testifying.

After one hour of deliberations, the jury delivered their guilty and not-guilty verdicts. President Judge David Barron ordered a pre-sentence investigation for Lauver and scheduled him for sentencing on July 18. Barron did not revoke Lauver’s bail, but advised him to stay out of trouble until sentencing.