Before the state called its first witness in the Shawn Rogers murder trial Thursday, the attorney representing Rogers attempted to prevent some witness testimony from being heard.
Soldotna defense attorney Chuck Robinson told the court the district attorney’s office withheld until Monday statements by Rex Hunter that on the night of the crime, Rogers said, “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. I didn’t mean to do it.”
Rogers, 33, of Kenai, is charged with the shooting death of Brian Black, 43, of Beluga, in Fat Albert’s Tavern and Bunkhouse in Beluga, in July 2004.
According to Robinson, Hunter had been ordered by Alaska State Troopers to assist in guarding Rogers in the bar on the night of the shooting while troopers continued to interview other bar patrons who may have witnessed the shooting.
Robinson said assistant district attorney Scot Leaders knew about the statements, but did not provide them to the defense team until Monday, the first day of jury selection in the trial.
Retired Anchorage Judge Larry Card, who is serving as judge pro-tem in the Kenai case, said court actions such as dismissal of the charges and not allowing witnesses “is reserved for extreme instances such as malfeasance and violations of Rule 16.
“If you do not want a continuance, unless you can show malfeasance, I’m not going to give you that relief,” Card said.
Alaska Court Rule 16 involves the “discovery” or disclosure of information to the accused or to the prosecuting attorney.
“In order to provide adequate information for informed pleas, expedite trial, minimize surprise, afford opportunity for effective cross-examination, and meet the requirements of due process, discovery prior to trial should be as full and free as possible ...,” the rule states.
The types of information to be given to the defense includes, “Any written or recorded statements and summaries of statements and the substance of any oral statements made by the accused.”
“You were aware of the statements when you made your opening (statement), just not the sources of the statements,” Card said to Robinson.
“Your application to exclude the statements is denied,” Card said. “I will give you a continuance, though it does not seem you’re willing to do that.”
Following Card’s ruling, the jury of 11 women and three men was called into the courtroom to begin hearing evidence in the case. Two jurors are serving as alternates and will be dismissed before deliberations begin.
Chuck Thome (TOH-mee) was the first witness called by the state.
Thome is a maintenance technician who worked with Black at the Chugach Electric power plant on the west side of Cook Inlet in 2004, and was with Black in Fat Albert’s the night he was killed.
Asked by Leaders if he knew the man sitting at the defense table in the courtroom Thursday, Thome said, “Yes. He shot a friend of mine in Beluga a couple years ago. He shot Hawkeye,” Thome said referring to Black by his nickname.
Responding to questions from Leaders, Thome said he had been at another friend’s cabin earlier the day of the shooting, had a few beers, and on the way home, stopped in at Fat Albert’s to see if Hawkeye and Mike Sowards were there.
He and cabin owner Phil Rice arrived between 9:45 and 10:15 p.m. and found Black and Sowards.
“When we walked in, you could tell Shawn (Rogers) had been drinking. He bought us a shot and I realized I didn’t want to be around him. I turned toward Hawkeye and started talking,” Thome said.
He said Rogers then kissed another friend, Ron Thebeau, on the cheek, and Thebeau seemed bothered by the act and moved away.
Thome and Black continued talking and Rogers sat by himself toward the end of the bar.
“Then Shawn started saying something to Hawkeye in an aggressive manner,” Thome said.
“We looked up and Hawkeye asked him, ‘You talkin’ to me?’
“He got loud, argumentative, using profanity. The second time he starts yelling, he stands up pointing the gun.
“Hawkeye says, ‘You pointing a gun at me?’” Thome said, adding that Black used a profanity.
“(Black) gets up and heads toward Shawn. Shawn sticks a gun in Hawkeye’s ribs and pulls the trigger. I saw two muzzle blasts,” Thome said.
He said he was heading toward Black and Rogers, getting there just as the shots were fired. He saw Black slump to the floor.
“Hawkeye didn’t even get a chance to grab onto him,” he said.
Leaders played a videotape made by troopers inside the bar shortly after they arrived on scene from the Kenai Peninsula.
As the camera panned the bar area, it stopped on Black’s body lying on the floor near the entrance to the bar.
Black’s mother, Sandra Black, who was sitting in the front row of the courtroom gallery Thursday between her son, Daryl and his wife, Jacque, began sobbing.
After the video was shown, Thome continued his testimony, saying he grabbed Rogers by the throat, took him down to the floor, and knelt on his head.
He and Thebeau then took him to the far side of a pool table in the barroom and tied him with their belts to hold him until troopers arrived.
He said after he got Rogers down, the bartender and girlfriend of Rogers, Kari Worth, jumped over the bar telling Thome to get off of Black.
“She said, ‘Shawn, what did you do?’ over and over. She was crying hysterically. I told her to get back behind the bar,” Thome said.
Robinson began cross examining Thome Thursday, but his questioning was interrupted by a power failure affecting the entire Kenai area.
Card halted the proceedings at 12:40 p.m. asking the jury to return today.
Before the lights went out, Robinson had been questioning Thome as to why Thursday was the first time he ever mentioned that Rogers stuck the gun in Black’s ribs.
Robinson said Thome did not say it during the trooper investigation and did not say it in front of a grand jury investigating the crime.
“Only now, in front of the jury, you think it’s important,” Robinson said.
The trial was scheduled to resume at 8:30 this morning.
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