Murder case witness says police scared him into giving the right statement

Idaho Falls

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Justin Sarbaum | Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office

IDAHO FALLS — A magistrate judge ruled Friday that there was enough evidence to bind over Justin Sarbaum to district court on felony second degree murder charges.

Justin Sarbaum is charged in the Jan. 14 shooting death of Tyson Tew on the 2700 block of St. Clair Road. Sarbaum said Tew attacked him, and he was acting in self-defense when he fatally shot Tew. However, investigators say Tew was shot in the back.

During a five-hour preliminary hearing the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office presented why they believed Sarbaum’s version of events was inaccurate. A preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing that happens after a criminal complaint has been filed and determines if there’s enough evidence to require a trial.

One of the main witnesses, Kodey Payne, a friend of Sarbaum and visitor to Sarbaum’s apartment that evening, claims Idaho Falls police officers scared him into giving a false statement.

Payne, who said during court that he has a mental disability, took the stand to give a different version of the events.

Payne said, contrary to the statement Sarbaum gave police, when a dart was thrown into Sarbaum’s foot, it was an accident, and the pair laughed about it.

“Tyson accidentally hit Justin in the foot with a dart,” Payne said. “Tyson seen what he had done and said, ‘Crap.’ … They laughed about it and moved on. … later Justin had a small wrench and popped Tyson in the chest. Then Justin said, ‘Now we are even.'”

However, Payne’s truthfulness came into question when prosecutors confronted him with telling police different versions of events. Payne admitted to telling police several different versions and he said that police kept asking him to tell the truth. Feeling scared, he would tell them what he thought they wanted to hear.

Payne was interviewed by detectives several times and his version of the timeline of events that occurred the night of shooting kept changing, according to police.

Payne told the court that police scared him. He said although Idaho Falls officers told him he wasn’t under arrest, they handcuffed him at one point to transfer him to the police station for a statement.

“The cop said he doesn’t allow people in his car without handcuffing them,” Payne said.

“They said I was free to go, but they put chairs in front of the door,” Payne said, adding he felt trapped and claustrophobic.

Police offered to talk to Payne in a larger room, but they agreed to stay in the one room with the door open.

He said, under oath, that detectives threatened him with a long jail sentence if he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.

Prosecutors confronted Payne about his struggle with memory and ability to place events. Payne said he doesn’t function in a normal way and told Sarbaum’s defense attorney, Curtis Smith, that he is on disability.

Payne said officers told him, “You’re going to give the right statement or you’re going to go to jail for a long time.”

“(Officers) keep pushing me towards what they wanted me to say,” Payne told Smith. “They said, ‘Tell us what we want to hear, and we won’t bother you again. … You can leave when you tell us what we want to hear.’ I told them they fought and Justin shot him because that’s what they wanted to hear.”

Smith asked Payne if he actually saw the shooting. Payne told the court he did not witness the shooting, and he didn’t even know it occurred until police told him.

Payne said when police drove him home, he was again handcuffed. has reached out to the Idaho Falls Police Department for a response to Payne’s accusations and for clarification on the department’s policy of handcuffing witnesses. We will update this story when we receive a response.

Other witnesses

Other witnesses called to the stand in the preliminary hearing include a patrol officer, three detectives, a forensic pathologist and a neighbor. The defense didn’t call any witnesses.

Idaho Falls Police Detective Patrick McKenna, an expert in blood splatter analysis, testified that evidence in Sarbaum’s apartment did not support Sarbaum’s statements that Tew violently attacked him in the master bedroom.

“There was no indication of a violent fight that we were being told about,” McKenna told the court after testifying about the lack of blood splatter and the master bedroom not being in disarray.

Dr. Ann L. Bucholtz, a forensic pathologist for Ada County Coroner’s Office, testified that Tew was shot three times: once in the back right armpit, once to the center of the back and once to the knuckle side of the right hand near the thumb.

Prosecutor John Dewey questioned Bucholtz about injuries to Tew’s hands. Bucholtz told the court that other than the gunshot wound, no trauma or disturbances to Tews hands’, elbows or legs were discovered. Injuries that would coincide or collaborate Sarbaum’s statement of being attacked were not found.

Bucholtz testified, with “reasonable medical certainty,” after reviewing Tew’s body, the injuries to Sarbaum’s face were not caused by Tew’s hands or elbows.

This brought Sarbaum’s original statement to police into question. Sarbaum said Tew beat him up severely, was on top of him and punched him repeatedly.

Bucholtz said she performed the autopsy on Tew three days after he died, which would have been ample amount of time for bruising to show on Tew’s nuckles and elbows if he used them to attack Sarbaum.

“If there was going to be bruising for me to see,” Bucholtz, referring to Tew’s hands and elbows, “I would have seen it.”

Bucholtz testified that Tew had a blood alcohol level of .198 and had marijuana in his system.

Stephen Schumacher, a neighbor to Sarbaum, also testified. He said he heard a loud bang, so loud that it popped open a fuse panel door in his apartment.

“The bang sounded like someone getting slammed into a wall, or someone dropping a couch,” Schumacher told the court. “The other two sounds, now that I know what there were, sounded like gunshots.”

Schumacher said he did not recognize the sounds as gunshots originally.

Magistrate Judge Keith Walker ruled there enough probable cause to go to trial and bound Sarbaum over to the district court. The date of Sarbaum’s arraignment — when he has the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty — has not yet been determined.

CLARIFICATION:This version of story has reworked the lede, to provide more emphasize on the events in court today and place those facts higher in the story.

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