WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

State’s Star Witness Testifies in Leftwich Murder Trial

From today’s Beckley Register-Herald:

Note: A couple of things stick out here: One, the victim officer and his fellow officer, Reynolds, both had been drinking according to the testimony at trial. Then they drove the murder scene where the victim attempted to make an undercover buy. Who was driving? The article didn’t say, but the obvious conclusion is that someone was drinking and driving. If Reynolds was the driver, then why wasn’t he investigated for DUI? I think we all know the answer to that. Had it been you or I, we would have been arrested.

Secondly, Dr. Iouri Boiko, who was at the time of the crime working for the State Medical Examiner’s Office (See my prior posts regarding this office here) testified that he believed that the victim’s .07 BAC level at the time of his death was that of a “practically sober person.” What a joke. Please, all WV DUI lawyers out there: at your next DUI trial subpoena Dr. Boiko as an expert witness, you know that you can at least get him to testify that a .07 is “practically sober.” The doctors from the State ME’s office are about the most untruthful and scandalous quacks ever to have an M.D. (or D.O.). The entire profession should be ashamed of these people who work for the people of the State of WV, but who scandalously slant their testimony so as to deny justice to those charged with crimes. I’m not defending the monster who committed this crime, just pointing out that our system is severely flawed. We absolutely must insert some neutrality into the State ME’s office and the State Forensic Lab.

Lastly, there needs to be accountability for the police. Is it good policy to have these undercover narcotics officers roaming around in police vehicles drinking, driving and making undercover buys with their girlfriends present? Does anyone see a problem with this? Having previously investigated pattern or practice police misconduct for the Department of Justice, it disturbs me that the Beckley PD didn’t turn the investigation of this incident over to the FBI, or at least the WV State Police. Once more, what sucks (for lack of a better term) for this guy, Leftwich, and for his co-hort who was already convicted, the judge is not allowing the defense to make an issue of these questions. If you are going to try someone for murder, at least let them have a shot at defending themselves. Again, I’m not defending either of these guys, but what if it was you, or your son or daughter, on trial? Believe it or not, innocent people do get charged with crimes – especially in West Virginia. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney.

ACD5B8F9-0930-4133-BD22-8AC4C405FC12.jpg

Raleigh County chief deputy prosecutor Kristen Keller displays a photograph of the area where Beckley Police Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith was shot to death on Aug. 29, 2006. Cpl. Will Reynolds, left, was one of two witnesses.
Rick Barbero / The Register-Herald

“After I saw him take out his badge, my reaction was, ‘Something’s gone wrong’”

LEFTWICH MURDER TRIAL

By Michelle James
Register-Herald Reporter
A Beckley police officer who witnessed the shooting death of Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith testified Tuesday he sensed something was wrong just seconds before his friend and fellow officer was gunned down on a city street.

“After I saw him take out his badge, my reaction was, ‘Something’s gone wrong,’” Cpl. Will Reynolds said, continuing, “because there was no reason he would take his badge out.”

Reynolds testified on the second day of Thomas Leftwich’s murder trial. Leftwich is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and felony use of a firearm in the shooting death of the 29-year-old Smith in the early-morning hours of Aug. 29, 2006.

Leftwich, 25, is claiming self-defense. According to his attorney, Mark Hobbs, Leftwich was afraid he was about to be robbed and thought Smith might be reaching for a gun.

Reynolds recalled the hours leading up to Smith’s death. The two off-duty officers and close friends went out for dinner and visited a number of Beckley nightspots. It was at the last spot they visited, Pikeview Lounge, Reynolds said, where Smith was approached by a man who Reynolds would later learn was Timothy Blackburn.

“Chuck came over to me and told me we had to go,” Reynolds told the court, explaining Blackburn had planned to buy narcotics from Raushan McDougald, who was well known to narcotics officers as “Jellybread.”

Reynolds and Smith by that time had been joined by Smith’s then-girlfriend, Jasminda Gonzalez, who went along with the two officers.

“(We had) no plans of arresting ‘Jellybread,’” Reynolds testified. “We planned to observe the incident … and start an investigation.”

Reynolds told the court “Jellybread” was never located, adding the men instead encountered Michael Martin, who offered to help them purchase drugs. Martin was convicted of murder in December and sentenced to life in prison.

“He said, ‘Are you looking?’” Reynolds said of Martin, explaining that was street slang for drug dealers. “I said, ‘No,’ and Chuckie said, ‘Yes.’”

Shortly thereafter, Reynolds said, Martin led the three, in Smith’s police vehicle, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, to a parking lot at the corner of South Fayette Street and Willow Lane.

Reynolds said Smith walked with Martin across Willow Lane to the foot of a stairwell leading up to a house on top of a hill, now known to be the Leftwich residence.

“Chuckie looks at me and says, ‘I’m in, I’m out,’” Reynolds recalled, explaining those words confirmed there would be only a transaction but no arrest.

As Smith and Martin stood at the base of the steps, looking up at an individual later identified as Leftwich, Reynolds heard what he called a “brief confrontation of words,” saw Smith reach into his pocket and show Leftwich his badge. He then heard “the first shot.”

After the shots were fired and both Martin and the gunman fled, Reynolds moved Smith across the street in an attempt to get him to safety, he said. He also moved the vehicle to use as a shield.

Reynolds testified he checked Smith to see what kind of wounds the officer had received.

“I check his heartbeat and his heart is beating really fast and it just stops,” an emotional Reynolds recalled. “I felt a warm substance running down my leg in my shoe.”

“Blood,” Reynolds responded when asked by chief deputy prosecutor Kristen Keller what that substance was.

Leftwich’s attorney, Mark Hobbs, questioned Reynolds as to how much alcohol he, Smith and Gonzalez had consumed, and why Gonzalez was with them.

Reynolds testified he consumed beer, but said he did not believe any of the three was intoxicated. He said he saw Smith consume only a small mixed drink with dinner.

Dr. Iouri Boiko, who at the time of Smith’s death worked with the state medical examiner’s office, told the court that of the four bullet wounds Smith received, the most damaging was to his left chest, which perforated both lungs and damaged his heart.

Responding to Hobbs’ inquiry of Smith’s .07 blood alcohol level at the time of his death, Boiko said he believed that BAC level was that of “practically a sober person.”

Dr. Michael Kelly, chairman of emergency services at Raleigh General Hospital, told the court the first EMS record after Smith was shot was at 4:32 a.m. and reported no cardiac activity, no blood pressure and indicated Smith was not breathing. Kelly said Smith arrived at the hospital about 15 minutes later and was pronounced dead at 4:56 a.m.

Raleigh County Sheriff’s Detective Cpl. J.C. Canaday and State Police Sgt. Craig Light testified regarding two search warrants obtained for the Leftwich residence in the hours after Smith’s death.

Based on information from Reynolds that the gunman had come from the house on the hill and had vanished in the same direction, Leftwich’s residence was searched.

During the first search, Canaday said, residents were removed from the home and Thomas Leftwich approached him, confessed he had shot Smith and showed him where he had hid the weapon.

Canaday read a list of items recovered from the residence during the two searches, including shirts, a cell phone, guns, ammunition, counterfeit bills and a bullet-ridden target of a police officer.

Matthew White, a firearm and toolmark examiner, testified the bullets that struck Smith came from Leftwich’s Smith & Wesson .357.

State Police Senior Trooper R.A. Daniel testified regarding “background” checks done on 19 weapons seized from the Leftwich residence.

Daniel said the murder weapon and two other weapons had been reported stolen. Two weapons, he said, were sold to Leftwich, and it was not determined if the others had been stolen.

Hobbs countered that person-to-person sales are not always noted and Daniel had no evidence proving the other weapons had been stolen.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. today.

— E-mail: mjames@register-herald.com

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March 12, 2008 - Posted by | Drugs, Evidence, Judges, Medical Examiners, Murder, Police, Trials

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