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Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

Accused Cop Killer To Claim Self Defense

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State Police Capt. Scott Van Meter, left, looks on as chief deputy prosecutor Kristen Keller asks Raleigh County Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick to disallow any negative commentaries on the character of the late Beckley Police Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith Thursday during pre-trial motions in the Thomas Leftwich murder case. Leftwich is accused of shooting Smith to death during an Aug. 29, 2006, undercover drug operation.
Rick Barbero / The Register-Herald

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Note: What the defense is getting at here is allegations that the victim narcotics officer was not acting entirely in the capacity of a police officer when this happened. It is claimed that the victim was at a bar drinking prior to the shooting, and that when the shooting happened, he was unarmed, and his girlfriend was in the car several steps away, along with his partner, who was also purportedly unarmed at the time.

If the defense is allowed to bring in some of these facts – which inarguably are in violation of the police operations manual, then it enables them to change the scenario from undercover cop killed in the line of duty, to off duty cop killed under questionable circumstances. This will be absolutely necessary if the defense is going to present self defense to the jury.

However, it doesn’t look like the Judge is going to give the defense much latitude with this argument. Regardless, his co-defendant was already convicted, and he had a much better chance of getting off because he wasn’t the shooter. He probably will inevitably be convicted, as he should. But its possible he will get convicted of 2nd degree murder if the jury runs with any of these facts. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

Accused cop killer to claim self-defense

Pre-trial motions heard in 2006 shooting of Beckley police detective

By Michelle James
Register-Herald Reporter

Two hours or so after he fired the shots that took the life of Beckley Police Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith, Thomas Leftwich told State Police Capt. Scott Van Meter he thought Smith might have been reaching for a weapon.

“I thought he was reaching for a gun,” Leftwich told Van Meter just before 7 a.m. on Aug. 29, 2006. “I didn’t know what he was reaching for.”

Van Meter read Leftwich’s short statement Thursday during pre-trail motions in Raleigh County Circuit Court.

Leftwich is charged with one count each of first-degree murder, conspiracy and use of a firearm in the death of the 29-year-old Smith.

During Thursday’s hearing, his attorney, Mark Hobbs, told the court the planned defense during the trial, which is slated to begin March 10, will be self-defense.

Hobbs said “it was all about (Leftwich’s) state of mind at the time” of the shooting, adding Smith did not identify himself and was fumbling in his pocket.

Although toxicology reports on Smith showed his blood-alcohol content was below the legal limit, Hobbs requested a sample of his blood in order for the defense to perform its own testing.

Chief deputy prosecutor Kristen Keller argued “BAC is irrelevant,” adding even if the toxicology is disputed, it doesn’t mean Smith’s death was justified.

Hobbs, saying he believed Smith had violated police department policies the night he was killed, requested permission to enter as evidence the Beckley Police Department’s policy manual.

Should Kirkpatrick allow submission of the manual, Hobbs said Marvin Robinson, a former city detective, would be an expert witness for the defense.

Keller questioned the relevance of the manual and added not only was there no evidence Smith had done anything wrong on the night of his death, but that if he had been in the wrong it is “no defense saying he wasn’t following rules and procedures.”

Keller asked Kirkpatrick to not permit Smith’s character to be called into question during the trial.

Kirkpatrick said there would be no “attacking or trashing the reputation” or Smith’s character.

Although Hobbs told the judge Smith’s character was not generally an issue, he said some of the conduct from the night of his death was. He asked Kirkpatrick to give guidelines on “how far he could go” when talking about what Smith had done prior to the incident.

Kirkpatrick said he would put together a pre-trial order to discuss what matters are permissible and what are off-limits.

Another pre-trial hearing has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. next Wednesday, at which time Kirkpatrick will rule on the request for a blood sample as well as on the admissibility of the department policy manual. The hearing will also determine if Robinson is qualified to testify as an expert witness on the manual.

Leftwich’s co-defendant, Michael Martin, who set up the alleged drug buy between Leftwich and Smith and was himself convicted of first-degree murder in December, will also appear at the hearing to determine if he is willing to testify at Leftwich’s trial or if he will exercise his Fifth Amendment rights.

Leftwich, barring a negative medical exam, will wear a shock belt mechanism during his trial.

Kirkpatrick explained the belt will allow the court to reduce the number of police officers needed in the courtroom. Should Leftwich not comply with orders or get out of hand, Kirkpatrick said, a trained officer would administer a shock that would temporarily disable him.

Leftwich agreed to wear the belt.

— E-mail: mjames@register-herald.com

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February 22, 2008 - Posted by | Evidence, Judges, Juries, Murder, Police, Self Defense, Trials

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