KALISPELL — Murder defendant Jesse Ernst testified Wednesday he continually feared his brother Ted might kill him, and that was the reason he aided Ted in a chain of burglaries in 1997 that culminated in the killing of Bigfork business man Larry Streeter.
Streeter surprised the brothers burglarizing a neighbor's house on Christmas night. Ted Ernst shot Streeter six times with a .22 pistol and “ finished him off” with one shot from a .357 magnum revolver, according to Jesse Ernst's testimony.
Jesse Ernst said Ted demanded that Jesse fire the final shot into Streeter's head with a large caliber revolver, and handed him a gun to use. But Jesse refused, even though he said he feared Ted would kill him. He said he put the gun on the hood of Streeter's truck. So Ted used a different .357 revolver to deliver the coup de grace.
Ted Ernst apparently had several guns to choose from in his vehicle. Jesse Ernst himself was armed with a large-caliber handgun con cealed under his clothes, plus a shotgun with a flashlight taped to its barrel, according to testimony in the trial. Jesse Ernst said he was afraid of these weapons and never intended to use them. He only carried them because his brother demand ed it. Jesse Ernst said he pre ferred to carry bear spray for self-defense during his burglaries.
Except for that single refusal to “ finish off” Streeter, Jesse Ernst said he always did what his brother demanded, even though he knew the crimes of burglary, theft and murder were against the law.
“ He was always talking about killing family, me, Mom. I just didn't want to give him an excuse to kill me,” Jesse Ernst, now 21, told the jury. He had just turned 18 when the burglary spree began.
The motive was not gain, but thrills, he said — Ted's thrills. Ted, who is a para plegic and confined to a wheelchair, planned the bur glaries and sent Jesse inside to do the dirty work — break ing the doors or using bolt cutters on the locks, hauling the loot back to Ted's vehicle, and loading the loot into Ted's storage shed after the two made their escape.
If Jesse failed to bring back loot, or otherwise didn't live up to expectations, his older brother became harsh, threatening and critical, Jesse Ernst said. He would call him “ dumb bitch,” for example.
“ He (Ted) always said he'd find somebody else (to help with the burglaries) and just put me away,” Jesse Ernst said. Ernst said he interpret ed the phrase “ put away” to mean that Ted Ernst meant to kill him.
John Stromnes writes for the Missoulian.