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Trial date set for Fruitland driver charged with mowing down newlyweds

Matthew and Amelia Parkinson on their wedding day in December 2017.
Matthew and Amelia Parkinson on their wedding day in December 2017.

A Fruitland driver accused of murdering a young couple by intentionally running them over on a city sidewalk will stand trial in July.

Jason L. Verwer was arraigned in 3rd District Court in Payette on Friday.

A trial date was set for 9 a.m. July 24 before District Court Judge Susan Wiebe, according to the Payette County Prosecutor's Office. It is expected to take two weeks.

Verwer is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in connection with the Jan. 24 deaths of Matthew Parkinson, 23, and wife, Amelia, 17. They died at the scene. Verwer faces 10 years to life in prison and a $15,000 fine for each count.

Here's the story from Verwer's preliminary hearing on March 14:

Prosecutors called nine witnesses to testify at Verwer’s preliminary hearing, including a motorist who saw the crash from nearby, bystanders who responded to the scene, an Idaho State Police crash reconstructionist and the Fruitland police officer who arrested Verwer.

Verwer had a mental evaluation after his initial court appearance, and he was found to be competent to participate in the preliminary hearing, Magistrate Judge Robert L. Jackson said.

Jason Lee Verwer Payette County Jail

Dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, Verwer at times appeared anguished during the hearing. He stared at the ceiling and used tissues to wipe tears from his eyes. About 10 people attended the hearing, and some wept as the details of the fatal crash were recounted.

Fruitland, a community of 5,000, is 50 miles northwest of Boise. U.S. Highway 95 cuts through the middle of town, which was named for its fruit orchards. The Parkinsons were walking north on a sidewalk along the east side of the highway when they were struck.

Verwer exhibited strange behavior before and after the crash, witnesses said.

Tyon Dittli said Verwer swerved in front of him as they drove north on U.S. Highway 95 on Jan. 24, cutting him off in the fast lane before veering back across the slow lane and onto the sidewalk.

Investigators said Verwer struck the Parkinsons south of the highway’s intersection with NW 3rd Street, knocking them in the air and dragging them into the parking lot of Keithly Williams Seeds.

“He drove straight at them, like he centered the car,” Dittli said.

He didn’t see any brake lights or evasive actions by Verwer. It also appeared to Dittli that Verwer was trying to strike Matthew Parkinson twice with his car, he said.

Idaho State Police Corporal Nathan Madenford, a technical collision investigator, used surveillance video and site measurements to calculate the speed of Verwar’s 1980s Chevy Celebrity.

He said the car appeared to speed up before it hit the couple, increasing from about 54 mph to 62 mph.

He noted “yaw marks,” or curved skid marks, in the left side of the right lane that indicated a hard turn of the wheel with no braking.

Johnny Ramirez, who heard the crash and ran to help the victims, saw Verwer get out of the car and walk away — without trying to render aid.

He said he yelled at Verwer to stop.

Verwer then pulled down his pants, grabbed his penis and simulated masturbation, Ramirez said.

When someone across the street yelled at Verwer, he turned, put his hands together and bowed to that person, Ramirez said. Worried that Verwer might be armed, Ramirez followed him at a distance until police arrived.

Fruitland Police Officer Lindsey Mattson testified that someone waved her down and identified Verwer as the driver. She said she asked Verwer if he was driving the vehicle in the crash.

“He kind of has a dead stare on his face,” she recalled of his reaction to the question. “Then he looks at me and smiles.”

She asked again and got no response, then took him into custody. Paramedics took Verwer to a local hospital for evaluation, and Mattson was with them.

She recalled that he did not speak much, and when he did it was with one-word answers. She said a lot of the words were colors, like “blue.” She also recalled him saying “white power.”

It wasn’t discussed in court at the March hearing but Jan. 24 — the day of the crash — is Verwer’s birthday.

Prosecutors showed video footage from surveillance cameras at two nearby businesses, including the Shell station across the street from where the crash occurred. The video from the gas station camera is focused on the pump area, but traffic on the highway can be seen in the background. In the video, the Parkinsons were very faintly visible on the sidewalk.

“This act was intentional,” Payette County Prosecutor Ross Pittman said in his closing comments. “The facts from the scene demonstrate it was intentional.”

Verwer showed a “conscious disregard for human life,” he said.

Investigators said they knew of no connection between Verwer and the Parkinsons. There was no discussion of a motive.

Jackson said prosecutors had met the burden of providing evidence of second-degree murder, including “malice aforethought” — the intention to kill or harm another person. He said he found no reason to believe that the car just veered off the road.

Jackson bound the case over to district court. Verwer is being held at the Payette County Jail on $1 million bond.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller