In slightly more than a half hour, the defense attorney in the Shawn Rogers murder trial planted much doubt the state will need to overcome in order to convict Rogers of first-degree murder as charged.
“This case is really about jumping to the wrong conclusions,” said Chuck Robinson, who is representing Rogers, the 33-year-old Kenai man charged with the shooting death of Brian Black, 43, of Beluga, in July 2004.
In his opening statement Wednesday to the Kenai jury of 11 women and three men, Robinson said evidence will show that during a struggle in Fat Albert’s Tavern and Bunkhouse in Beluga, someone other than Rogers caused his .45-caliber handgun to go off, causing the death of Black.
Robinson also said evidence will show that when Alaska State Troopers first arrived on scene from the Kenai Peninsula side of Cook Inlet, they jumped to the wrong conclusion that Rogers was guilty, leading their entire investigation to that conclusion.
Assistant district attorney Scot Leaders, in his opening statement to the jury, said a number of bad choices led to the death of Black.
Leaders said Rogers chose to consume alcohol to the point of being out of control, he was looking for a fight and he stuck his loaded handgun into the left side of Black and shot him.
The prosecuting attorney said the victim also made a bad choice: instead of retreating after Rogers pointed the gun at him from across the bar, Black chose to approach Rogers.
“You’ll hear evidence of (Rogers) agitating others in the bar,” Leader said.
“Miss (Kari) Worth had at one time taken the gun from him and placed it on the ledge on the back wall of the bar,” he said. “He got the gun back later when, ostensibly, he was leaving the bar.”
Kari Worth was working as the bartender in Fat Albert’s.
Leaders said an offensive remark was made from across the bar, Rogers pointed his gun at Black, and Black approached Rogers.
Leaders said two shots were fired from Rogers’ gun one hit the floor and one entered his side just below the armpit, lodging in his spine after severing his aorta. He died immediately.
After hearing testimony from people in the bar and reviewing all the state’s evidence, Leaders told the jury they would be “left with the inevitable conclusion ... that Mr. Rogers’ action was intentional when he caused the death of Mr. Black.”
In Robinson’s opening statement to the jury, he detailed Rogers’ activities on the day of the shooting.
He said Rogers had been staying in a lodge his parents own near Beluga and had been out fishing earlier that day with Worth, his friend.
Because there are a lot of bears on the west side of the inlet, Rogers had his .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol with him, Robinson said.
That evening, Rogers and Worth went to Fat Albert’s. Worth had been asked to open the bar that day.
The bar was opened, three others from Tyonek came to the bar and at some point Rogers left the bar and went back to the lodge, Robinson said.
He said Rogers returned later and realized he still had the gun. He had the bartender put it on the back shelf.
After buying a round of drinks for some patrons and playing a game of pool, Rogers was going to leave and asked Worth for his gun.
“In the process of putting the gun in his holster, he may have exposed it to people across the bar he never pointed it at anyone,” Robinson said.
He said one of the witnesses is expected to testify that Rogers was heard saying something like, “Come and make me.”
“Black rushed him,” Robinson said. Others followed.
“We expect the evidence to show there was a struggle for that .45 and something happened,” he said.
Robinson also said a second bullet casing remained jammed in the gun, a malfunction known as a “stovepipe.”
He said a number of weapons experts say a stovepipe malfunction occurs most often when someone’s hand gets in the way of the action of the gun.
“The evidence is going to show Shawn was jumped; the gun went off; someone got a hand on the weapon; it went off a second time and killed Mr. Black maybe even self-inflicted,” Robinson said.
He said troopers arrived at 12:40 a.m., and in a very short time “jumped to the conclusion that Mr. Rogers was guilty of first-degree murder, and everything they did after that was drawing to that conclusion.”
He said they did not try to determine why the gun got into a stovepipe position, they did not fingerprint anyone including the deceased and did not fingerprint the weapon.
“We believe someone else caused the death of Mr. Black,” Robinson said.
The state will begin calling witnesses in the case at 8:30 this morning in Kenai Superior Court. Retired Anchorage Judge Larry Card is serving as judge pro-tem.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek @peninsulaclarion.com.
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