WV Criminal Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

WV gun owner stops home invasion. When can you legally shoot someone?

There was an article yesterday in the Charleston Gazette about a gun owner in Logan, WV who stopped a home invasion in progress at his neighbor’s home.

He shot one of the burglars, and held the other at gunpoint until police arrived.  This brings up a common topic of interest to people – especially in West Virginia, which has one of the largest percentages of gun owners per capita (we are no. 5 I believe).

When can you legally shoot someone in a home invasion scenario?  

In the end, it comes down to whether or not you reasonably believe that you, or someone else (anyone else – it doesn’t have to be a family member) is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.  People tend to get obsessed with the “castle doctrine.”  Just understand that to mean, that if you are in your home, you have no legal obligation to run out the back door, if given the opportunity.  It all comes down to whether you believe you, or someone else, is going to be killed or seriously hurt if you don’t take action.

There is no guarantee that, even if you do believe you’re about to be killed, and you fire your weapon, that the shooting will be deemed justified.  Your fear must have been reasonable – based on something that your peers would likely also consider as significant enough to cause them fear as well.

Everyone should think about these types of things ahead of time.  You should draw a mental line in the sand regarding when you shoot, and when you do not shoot.  What is enough?  What if someone in a ski mask is lurking outside your house?  What if someone in a ski mask is outside your house with a gun in their hand?  What if someone is burglarizing your vehicle in your driveway?  What if someone is burglarizing your neighbor’s home?  Or car?

There is not necessarily a right answer for these types of scenarios.  But you should never pull the trigger unless you really do fear for a life.  It’s not that they don’t deserve a dirt nap.  If it were up to me, all thieves entering your property at night should be executed.  But unfortunately it’s not.

Many people in West Virginia do believe that if someone is breaking into their car at night, that they can run outside and shoot them.  Unfortunately, here we are not allowed to use deadly force in order to protect property.  For this reason, electric companies are not supposed to keep lines active for the sole purpose of deterring trespassers.  Now if the car burglar approaches you, or if he has a weapon and has the imminent ability to use it against you – that is different.

1.  It’s always going to be more difficult to justify a shooting where the person shot was “unarmed”.  I knife, gun, or even a stick could count as a weapon.  It is never a good idea to provide your own weapon after the shooting.  The facts are what they are.  Never try to change them.

2.  It’s always going to be more difficult to justify a shooting where the person shot was shot in the back.  This would indicate that the person was walking, or running, away from you.  That causes a problem because at that point it’s hard to argue that your fear was reasonable when the threat was leaving.  It’s also hard to argue that the threat was imminent.  But, if the person shot was in your house, it’s probably going to be a good shoot, because the threat was still in your home.  Generally when we shoot someone, our natural tendency is to keep shooting.  So there have been cases where the first shot was in the front of the person’s body, and several more shots went into the guy’s back as he turned to run away.  Good shoot, but bullets in the back are always going to make things more difficult.

3.  In your home, it’s game on.  Like I said, draw a line in the sand.  If someone maliciously invades your home, you generally can eliminate the threat with extreme prejudice.  But it still has to be reasonable.  You wouldn’t want to shoot a drunk neighbor who wandered in the wrong house – or a family member sneaking back in from a night of partying.  For this reason, always have a good home defense light.  You have to know your target – and what’s behind it.

It’s outside the home, where most of the grey areas live.  So be very careful venturing outside your castle with a gun in the dark of night.  Know where your line in the sand is.

As for the shooting in the article, the 800 pound gorilla is the fact that was left out of the story.  Did the shooter believe that the neighbors were in the home at the time he saw the attempted home invasion?  If so, good shoot.  If not, he may have a more difficult time due to the fact that we are not allowed to use deadly force in order to protect (only) property.

4.  Lastly, all gun owners who anticipate ever having to use their firearms in self defense should get some formal training, such as in a defensive handgun class.  A basic concealed weapons class does not qualify as training.  This is me at a handgun class a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a lot of fun, and it’s part of our obligation as citizens under the 2nd Amendment.

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December 23, 2013 Posted by | Burglary, Concealed Weapons, Murder, Negligent Homicide, Robbery, Self Defense, West Virginia Concealed Carry Laws, West Virginia Gun Laws | Leave a comment

WV Supreme Court Acquits Woman Convicted of Murder

In a 4-1 decision, authored by Justice Menis Ketchum – a Justice with criminal defense experience – which was filed yesterday, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals actually acquitted a woman who had been convicted of murder in Cabell County, West Virginia.

A jury convicted Tanya D. Harden of first-degree murder in 2007, ignoring her argument that she acted in self-defense. She said Danuel Harden Jr., her husband of 11 years, told her that “nobody was going to walk out of the house that night,” including their two children.  She apparently shot her husband with a shotgun while he was sleeping on the couch.  

This was basically a “battered woman syndrome” self-defense case. 

The justices’ decision acquitted Harden of murder charges, and ordered her released from prison immediately. She had been serving a life sentence with a recommendation of mercy.

Syllabus Point 3 of the Opinion held that: 

Where a defendant has asserted a plea of self-defense, evidence showing 

that the decedent had previously abused or threatened the life of the defendant is relevant 

evidence of the defendant’s state of mind at the time deadly force was used.  In determining 

whether the circumstances formed a reasonable basis for the defendant to believe that he or 

she was at imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death at the hands of the decedent, the 

inquiry is two-fold. First, the defendant’s belief must be subjectively reasonable, which is 

to say that the defendant actually believed, based upon all the circumstances perceived by 

him or her at the time deadly force was used, that such force was necessary to prevent death 

or serious bodily injury. Second, the defendant’s belief must be objectively reasonable when 

considering all of the circumstances surrounding the defendant’s use of deadly force, which 

is to say that another person, similarly situated, could have reasonably formed the same 

belief. Our holding in Syllabus Point 6 of State v. McMillion, 104 W.Va. 1, 138 S.E. 732 

(1927), is expressly overruled. 

In Syllabus Point 4 of the Opinion, the Court held that:

Where it is determined that the defendant’s actions were not reasonably 

made in self-defense, evidence that the decedent had abused or threatened the life of the 

defendant is nonetheless relevant and may negate or tend to negate a necessary element of 

the offense(s) charged, such as malice or intent. 

In Syllabus Point 5 of the Opinion, the Court held that:    

An occupant who is, without provocation, attacked in his or her home, 

dwelling or place of temporary abode, by a co-occupant who also has a lawful right to be 

upon the premises, may invoke the law of self-defense and in such circumstances use deadly 

force, without retreating, where the occupant reasonably believes, and does believe, that he 

or she is at imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury.  In determining whether the 

circumstances formed a reasonable basis for the occupant to believe that he or she was at 

imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury at the hands of the co-occupant, the inquiry 

is two-fold. First, the occupant’s belief must be subjectively reasonable, which is to say that 

the occupant actually believed, based upon all the circumstances perceived by him or her at 

the time deadly force was used, that such force was necessary to prevent death or serious 

bodily injury. Second, the occupant’s belief must be objectively reasonable when 

considering all of the circumstances surrounding the occupant’s use of deadly force, which 

is to say that another person, similarly situated, could have reasonably formed the same  

belief.  Our decision in Syllabus Point 2, State v. Crawford, 66 W.Va. 114, 66 S.E. 110 

(1909), is expressly overruled. 

You know, sometimes prosecutors should come to the conclusion that the guy deserved it.  They should have given this woman a break.  She was protecting her children.  The police wouldn’t have stopped him from killing her, or the children.  That’s why we have guns for self defense.  It’s each of ours individuals responsibility to protect ourselves and our children.  The prosecutors were trying to victimize these children by turning them into orphans.  

As the Appellant/Defendant’s brief noted (caution: there are some gruesome photographs):
From Tanya Harden’s arrest to her sentencing, the State has never disputed an essential fact – that the decedent threatened to kill his wife and children and used his fists and shotgun to brutally beat his wife just before he died.  The injuries suffered by Tanya Harden, including facial fractures, were preserved on photographs taken the day of her arrest and made part of the record in this case, and were attested to by the State’s own witnesses.
This is our job as defense attorneys: to protect those of the Lord’s children who have fallen short of perfection from the wrath of those who believe they have attained it.  And by those, I am talking about prosecutors.  And Ms. Harding may have fallen short of perfection, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same thing given the circumstances.
 
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Appeals, Evidence, Murder, Prosecutors, Self Defense | 1 Comment

Murder Case Appeal Denied

As was reported in the Register-Herald this morning, a 2nd degree murder conviction being appealed by myself and Tom White of Lewisburg was denied by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals last week.  The vote was 4-1 – Menis Ketchum, a Justice having criminal defense experience, having voted to hear to hear the appeal.  One of the issues appealed was the admission of a “dying declaration,” which is an exception to the hearsay rule.  Justice Ketchum noted during the hearing that there has been a nationwide trend questioning the dying declaration exception, such as has long been the case in Alabama – See Hutcherson v. State, and indeed apparently even in India.  Exceptions the hearsay rule still have to hinge on the reliability of the statements.  If the dying person had a motive to lie, then the reliability of the statement should be questioned and it possibly should not be admitted.

In Hutcherson, the Court of Appeals of Alabama noted that “[t]hough a dying declaration is not presumed involuntary as is an extrajudicial confession, yet it must be treated with a jaundiced eye.  It is predicated on the assumption of death-bed freedom from vengefulness and mendacity.  The validity of this assumption would seem difficult of demonstration. Hutcherson v. State, 40 Ala.App. 77, 108 So.2d 177 (1958).

The Alabama court cites a prior Alabama case which gives this warning:

“There are many reasons why dying declarations should be received and weighed with great caution. First, They are necessarily wanting in that greatest test of the credibility of oral testimony, cross-examination. Second, The jury are without the opportunity of observing the temper and manner of the declarant.Third, Such testimony is generally given by relatives and friends of the deceased, who had watched by his bed-side, and bias in his favor is to be expected.Fourth, All narrations of the other men’s sayings should be scrutinized with care, because what men say is so liable to be misunderstood. This is shown in the fact that when two or more witnesses, no matter how respectable, attempt to repeat a conversation that was heard by each, very marked differences will frequently be observed in their several narratives. Fifth, Many persons, even in serious conversation, assert as facts those things of which they have only strong convictions, but have no knowledge derived from the senses. Well may we, in the language of the judges and text-writers, say that such evidence is received from necessity, and to prevent the escape of offenders who commit the awful crime of murder. * * *”

Shell v. State, 88 Ala. 14, 7 So.2d 41. 

Note: this is is no way represented as a comprehensive legal argument regarding dying declarations – only some off-the-beaten-path language that I encountered and felt was pertinent – probably only useful in attempts at encouraging a trial judge to second guess the reliability of a dying declaration sought to be admitted to a jury.  There are obviously better appellate arguments grounded in law.  This is not that.

Isn’t it frightening that you can be convicted of murder in West Virginia and not be able to appeal your case?  We need either an appeal as of right for certain criminal cases, or an intermediate court of appeals.  And we can afford it, we just need to cut out some of the entitlements that are handed out so generously in our state.

 – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

February 4, 2009 Posted by | Appeals, Murder | 7 Comments

WV Father Convicted of Infant’s Murder 27 Years Ago

From the Charleston Dail Mail:

Apparently, there was an autopsy performed on this child back in 1981 which indicated that the infant died as a result of being shaken, but it was never delivered to the prosecutor’s office. Talk about gross incompetence…

Just remember, these are the same medical examiners that make mistakes in the other direction as well. Medical examiners for the most part couldn’t get a job working in a hospital, or in private practice working on actual living beings. Their incompetence and skewed sense of purpose can’t maim or kill a cadaver, but they can cause an innocent person to get convicted.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

June 20, 2008 Posted by | Children, Experts, Forensic Labs, Medical Examiners, Murder | Leave a comment

Kanawha County Mother Charged in 1-Year-Old’s Death – Police Should Tread Carefully

A story in the Charleston Daily Mail today reported that a Kanawha County mother was charged criminally with the death of her 22 month-old son.

Elizabeth Dawn Thornton, 21, was arraigned in Kanawha Magistrate Court in connection with the death of Constantine Alexander Washburn, known as Alex.

Lt. Sean Crosier, of the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department, said the infant died May 31 as a result of injuries received May 26 in his Cross Lanes home. Crosier said the boy’s severe brain injuries and other injuries would have required immediate medical attention, but that Thornton did not seek help until a friend called an ambulance on May 29.

Crosier said authorities waited several days before charging Thornton. “This is a very, very serious allegation and we wanted to make sure everything was right,” he said. He said authorities are still questioning other family members, including the boy’s father, 31-year-old Christopher Washburn.

Police believe the elder Washburn may have been present when the boy was injured. Crosier did not know if other charges are pending.

According to the criminal complaint, both parents told police Alex Washburn bumped his head on a table and hit his chin on a toilet. But doctors said the boy’s severe brain injuries and bruising on his neck did not support their stories.

As a criminal defense attorney, this is the most upsetting type of case, because babies are innocent 100% of the time and have been robbed of their life. Secondly, there are many types of accidental situations that could be construed to be child abuse or neglect, resulting in essentially murder charges against parents who have suffered a great tragedy.

In these types of cases, there is a very fine line between parents who deserve to rot in prison, and parents who are either innocent, or unintentionally harmed their child. What separates the two? The medical examiner who performed the autopsy. The ME will come up with some reason why the injuries do not corroborate the parent(s) version of what happened. Therein lies the problem: what happens when two doctors disagree on the autopsy results and their necessary conclusions? You have a situation where two doctors testify against each other for opposing parties in a court room. But this is not a civil case, this is a criminal case, with everything at stake, not just money.

Case in point: I had a similar case where a 6-month-old child died tragically. The autopsy was performed and it was ruled SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) by the ME. Law enforcement thought something was fishy, and they didn’t like the ME’s conclusion, so the ME was fired, and a new ME was brought in to take a second look. Guess what? The second ME ruled the death a homicide, based on the conclusion that blood in some cavity of the body meant it must have been murder, or that someone was lying. So the investigators leak the story to the newspapers and start interrogating the parents.

So what happened? After being devastated by the death of their infant, the parents were already at the end of their rope. Within months, both parents committed suicide. Tragically, an entire family disappeared from the world.

The point is, that investigators better make damn sure they know what they are talking about, and the parents better run – not walk – to an independent physician to review the ME’s findings.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

June 6, 2008 Posted by | Children, Medical Examiners, Murder, Negligent Homicide | Leave a comment

Bluefield Man Pleads to Voluntary Manslaughter – Not a Bad Deal

From the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:

A Bluefield man facing first-degree murder in the 2007 shooting death of a another Bluefield resident entered into a plea agreement Tuesday in Mercer County Circuit Court.

Ronald Jerome Finney, Sr., also known as R.J., 53, pleaded guilty before Judge Derek Swope to a felony charge of voluntary manslaughter. Finney was indicted in February on first-degree murder in the Oct. 31, 2007 shooting of Donald Lamont Greene, 32, of Bluefield. Greene died as the result of a gunshot wound to the chest.

Finney was apparently claiming that he fired in self defense, stating that he was in fear for his life. However, the situation stemmed from him attempting to purchase crack-cocaine – not exactly a “clean hands” position to be in. Furthermore, his story was pretty shaky. Finney said in his statement that he waited outside [the drug dealer’s house], and that Greene later came up to him, threatened him, and “he acted like he had something in his pocket, so I just shot him,” adding that he fired a second time when Greene “then tried to get something out.”

Finney must have been pretty believable though, because prosecutors gave him a pretty good deal – voluntary manslaughter – only carrying a determinate sentence of 3 to 10 years (compared with life for first degree murder, or up to 40 years for second degree murder). This was well-worth accepting in lieu of taking a chance with the jury and possibly facing life in prison.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

May 21, 2008 Posted by | Murder, Plea Agreements, Prosecutors | Leave a comment

Charges Expected in Kanawha County Hunting Death

From the Charleston Gazette today:

Charges are expected to be filed against 19-year-old Andrew S. Hardin, of St. Albans, who allegedly shot and killed Nicholas Lee Caldwell while hunting turkey on Tuesday, state Division of Natural Resources investigators said.

Caldwell, 16, was in a wooded area off Kanawha Street near St. Albans when he was hit by shotgun pellets at about 8:30 a.m., said Hoy Murphy, spokesman for the DNR, which is investigating the incident.

People near the scene told investigators they saw 19-year-old Andrew S. Hardin, of St. Albans, hunting in the area. In an interview with officers, he later confessed he was the shooter, DNR officials said.

As in many other cases, usually the cover-up is more serious than the original crime. What if the victim was alive after the shooting and the shooter left him to die? In that case, he should face murder charges. The autopsy, which will almost positively take place, should indicate whether or not it was an immediate death.

The victim was hunting on private land near his home and he had permission to be hunting there. The shooter however, at least according to the article, appears not to have had permission to be hunting on this land. This is absolutely disgusting to me. As an avid turkey hunter, I have hunted around many other people, and almost every single one of them takes the proper safety precautions. Anyone who can’t tell the difference between a turkey and a hunter ought not to be in the woods in the first place. Furthermore, since this person was likely trespassing, he ought to go to prison for this.

You can read the entire article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

May 1, 2008 Posted by | Civil Liability, Murder, Negligent Homicide, Wildlife Violations | Leave a comment

Martin Found Guilty in Fayette County Triple Murder Case – Prosecutor Attacks the 2nd Amendment

From the Register-Herald today:

Its no big surprise that after just under two hours of deliberations, the jury of seven women and five men found Gary D. Martin, 57, of Stringtown Road, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder.

Obviously the jury didn’t buy the self defense argument. However, they did find Martin guilty of second-degree murder for killing the victim that had the gun in the holster. Thus, the jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin killed that particular victim with premeditation. They were convinced with respect to the other two victims however.

This result is no surprise given the evidence. However, I was surprised to read what Fayette County Prsoecutor Carl Harris “thundered” in his closing argument. The Register-Herald quoted him saying as follows:

“Only two people are alive at the end of that day because the other three are dead,” Harris thundered in closing arguments. “This is a weapon for killing,” he added, holding up the AK-47. “This is not a weapon for target practice. This is a military weapon. You don’t pull out a pistol when you’re facing a weapon like this. Self-defense (as a legal defense) doesn’t work when you shoot someone in the back.”

According to Carl Harris, an AK-47 is only a “weapon for killing” and cannot be used for target practice as it is purely a “military weapon.” Carl Harris should be ashamed of himself. Law-abiding citizens across the State of West Virginia own so-called “assault weapons” such as AK-47s and AR-15s, which they do use for target practice, self defense, or just to collect. It is just a semi-automatic rifle, similar to many others that West Virginians and other Americans own and use across the country every single day. Attention Fayette County residents: hide your guns because Carl Harris is probably looking to prosecute you for harboring “weapons for killing.” Don’t try to get some target practice in, you may end up in prison. Carl Harris needs to realize that it is perfectly legal to own that particular gun, as well as many others, and he needs to keep his anti-gun feelings to himself, and out of the courtroom.

Read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

April 23, 2008 Posted by | Juries, Murder, Prosecutors, Self Defense, Trials | 2 Comments

Prosecution Witnesses Testify in Martin Murder Trial in Fayette County

From the Register-Herald today:

Fayette County prosecutors presented 16 witnesses Monday and explained that they plan to call just one more today in the triple-murder trial of a Hico area man accused of gunning down three young men with an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle last Memorial Day on the road in front of his home.

Gary D. Martin, 57, of Stringtown Road, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the May 28 shooting deaths of Dustin Tyler Hughes, 22, of Hico, Christopher Lee Legg, 23, of Hico, and Carl Blaine Cox Jr., 24, of Edmond.

The defense is claiming that since a Glock pistol in a holster was found one one of the victims, that the shootings were justifiable homicide – or self defense. However, there are some problems with that defense; namely, that the pistol was found shot and damaged with the holster. The article doesn’t say whether the gun was actually still in the holster or not. If it was, then self defense would be a tough row to hoe. If the gun was not in the holster, then self defense would be an easier case. Reportedly, there were seven rounds in the magazine, which holds nine. So it is possible that the victim shot two rounds. However, none were found at the scene (but that still doesn’t mean they weren’t there). I wonder if they tested the Glock for gunshot residue – or the victim’s hands for gunshot residue. That could prove almost conclusively whether or not he fired a gun. I would hit hard on that if I were one of the defense attorneys. You will see a pattern of sloppy investigative work and repeated failure by the State to do all of the forensic testing or evidence collection that could have been done. Your theory almost has to be that it was self defense, and the State cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not self defense, because they failed to do all of the testing that could have proven it.

Of course, all of this is assuming you have a fair and impartial jury. See my earlier posts regarding motions for change of venue. This would have been a good case for one.

Another problem with the defense is that there were three victims shot to death. Even if one of the victims had threatened or shot at the defendant, it would not have been justifiable to shoot all three to death. Yet another problem is the statements made to the passing motorists and EMT workers afterwards.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | Forensic Labs, Juries, Murder, Self Defense, Trials | 1 Comment

Conviction Machine Rolls Along in Leftwich Murder Trial

From today’s Beckley Register-Herald:

Note: Apparently the judge reversed his prior ruling denying the defense the ability to call an expert witness to testify about proper undercover procedure. The reason for the reversal was that the State called their own witness solely to testify as to the “ins and outs of undercover investigations.” Thus, the defense should be permitted to have their own witness testify as to the impropriety of the supposed undercover operation on the night of the killing. This could form the basis for a self-defense claim. Regardless, if the judge is going to allow the prosecution to present pictures of the defendant posing with guns and old targets painted as police officers, which are extremely prejudicial, he should allow the defense to fully develop his self defense theory. This requires looking at the situation through the eyes of the defendant – which requires testimony regarding the victim’s actions that night.

Another thing which stuck out to me was the testimony regarding having girlfriends or wives in an undercover vehicle while performing a drug buy. Both Trooper Van Meter and their expert, Trooper Davis, testified that “in case of an emergency, they could not swear they would not take their wives along.” What a load of garbage. They were obviously coached by the prosecution to say that. Since when is buying drugs an emergency? Obviously anything can happen in an emergency – what is important here is policy and procedure. This is what is scary about our criminal justice system in West Virginia – even WV State Police officers are willing to slant their testimony and lie on the stand in order to help the prosecution obtain a conviction. Maybe no one cares in this case. But, as I always say, you will care when your brother or son is wrongly accused of a crime and the State puts the conviction machine to work against them. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney.

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State Police Cpl. D.C. Eldridge shows the jury in the Thomas Leftwich murder trial a photo, recovered from Leftwich’s computer, of the defendant posing with weapons. Eldridge testified in Raleigh County Circuit Court that the computer contained digital images of narcotics, money, various weapons on display and the defendant posing with the weapons.
Rick Barbero / Register-Herald Photographer

Defense to begin in Leftwich trial

Michelle James
Register-Herald Reporter

Following the testimony of three State Police officers, the defendant’s brother and a taped recording of the defendant himself, the state rested its case Wednesday against 25-year-old Thomas Leftwich, charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and felony use of a firearm in the Aug. 29, 2006, shooting death of Beckley Police Detective Cpl. Chuck Smith.

“I heard him screaming, so I figured I hit him in the leg,” Leftwich said on the tape, adding he was “trying to aim low.”

“I didn’t want to kill the man or nothing.”

The defense will begin presenting its case when the trial resumes this morning. Leftwich is expected to testify at some point in the defense’s case.

Leftwich, in a statement recorded just hours after Smith’s death, was heard explaining what happened in the minutes before and after the fatal shooting of the man he said he did not know was a police officer.

After receiving a phone call shortly after 4 a.m., Leftwich agreed to meet a man he referred to as “Mike,” now known to be Michael Martin, as well as a second person who, in Martin’s words, wanted to buy drugs. Martin was convicted of murder in December and sentenced to life in prison.

Leftwich, who lived in a house atop a hill at the corner of Willow Lane and South Fayette Street, said Martin called and said he was outside waiting. When Leftwich reached the steps leading from his yard to the street below, he said he saw Martin and a “white dude.”

After handing the drugs over, Leftwich said, the person told him “today was my bad day.”

Leftwich told police he feared he was about to be robbed, and when he saw the man reach for what he thought to be a gun, he “pulled out my gun as quick as I could and started firing.”

After firing “three, possibly four” shots, Leftwich said he ran, placing the gun underneath a porch and hiding in his basement.

He told police he knew the person he shot at had been hit.

“He kind of turned around screaming …, ” Leftwich said. “I knew from the screaming that he was hit.”

Leftwich said he decided to confess when he saw his family, including a younger brother, being led from the house in handcuffs after police obtained a search warrant based on information from an eyewitness, Beckley Police Cpl. Will Reynolds.

Earlier in the trial, both Reynolds and Smith’s then-girlfriend, Jasminda (Gonzalez) Curen, testified they saw Smith show Leftwich his badge just before he was shot.

In his statement, however, Leftwich said something different.

“I didn’t see no badges,” he said, adding later, “He could have been reaching for a badge or something, but he didn’t say he was a policeman.”

In his statement, Leftwich said he picked up the loaded Smith & Wesson .357 revolver at the last second because of a bad feeling or “gut instinct.”

Kenneth Leftwich testified he could not remember if he ever told police his brother was a crack cocaine dealer, but said he “told the troopers he might have sold a little bit of marijuana.”

When asked by chief deputy prosecutor Kristen Keller if his brother was a crack dealer, Kenneth Leftwich responded, “I’m not sure.”

Kenneth Leftwich testified he was awakened by multiple gunshots just after 4 a.m. on Aug., 29, 2006, adding there were 15 to 20 shots fired and that he later saw 15 to 20 shell casings in the road.

After hearing the gunshots, Kenneth Leftwich said, he called his brother’s cell phone to “make sure he was OK.”

Keller asked him about additional phone calls and Leftwich said he did not know his brother had shot and killed Smith.

State Police Capt. Scott Van Meter testified that based on phone records there were seven calls between the brothers the morning of Smith’s death.

When shown by Keller a painted picture of a police officer riddled with bullet holes, Kenneth Leftwich admitted he and his brother had used it for target practice, writing their initials, either “T.L.” or “K.L.,” beside each hole. He told his brother’s attorney, Mark Hobbs, the “paint by color” picture had been completed by another brother several years earlier and was the only target he and Thomas ever used.

Although the target depicts a police officer and was marked with a scoring system, awarding different points for different hits, Kenneth Leftwich said he and his brother never discussed or planned to shoot a police officer.

Van Meter told Hobbs the target “looks to me like the rehearsal to doing it (killing an officer),” adding he believed it demonstrated there was an anger toward police.

When asked by Hobbs if he believed that anger was enough to kill an officer, Van Meter responded, “Could be.”

State Police Cpl. D.C. Eldridge testified about photographs recovered from a computer seized from the Leftwich residence the morning Smith was killed.

Eldridge said he recovered 231 photo files, many of which featured narcotics, weapons or money.

In some of those pictures, which were shown to the jury, Leftwich is shown posing with various weapons, including the gun used to shoot Smith.

Hobbs argued the importance of the picture, asking Eldridge if the weapons shown in the photos could be purchased by the general public at a sporting goods store.

“They can be,” Eldridge replied, adding the purchases would be contingent on the buyer’s background and the intended use for the weapon.

State Police Cpl. Jason Davis, who has worked undercover for seven years, testified about the ins and outs of undercover investigations.

When questioned by Hobbs about using his police car as a personal vehicle, as Smith is said to have done, Davis testified his work car was his primary car, and, as an undercover officer, it would look suspicious if he was seen by drug contacts in multiple cars.

Responding to Hobbs’ references and questions regarding Smith’s girlfriend’s presence at the time of the shooting, both Davis and Van Meter testified they, in the case of an emergency, could not swear they would not take their wives along.

Because of Davis’ testimony, Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick reversed a pre-trial ruling, advising Hobbs he would be permitted to produce his own witness to testify about undercover protocol.

— E-mail:

mjames@register-herald.com

March 13, 2008 Posted by | Judges, Murder, Police, Self Defense, Trials | Leave a comment

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