Sowards hid behind bar during culmination of confrontation

Rogers witness took cover from gunfire

Posted: Monday, February 26, 2007

Jurors in the Shawn Rogers murder trial in Kenai learned Friday the trial is likely to continue into March.

Retired Anchorage Superior Court Judge Larry Card, who is serving as judge pro-tem in the case, said he knew jurors had been told the trial might be over by Friday.

However, because some witnesses have been on the stand longer than anticipated and one witness will not be able to testify until March 5, the hope now is to turn the case over to the jury for deliberations early that week.

Rogers is the 33-year-old Kenai man charged with the shooting death of Brian Black, 43, of Beluga, in Fat Albert’s Tavern and Bunkhouse in Beluga, July 26, 2004.

Testimony resumed Friday with assistant district attorney Scot Leaders calling Mike Sowards and Alaska State Trooper Cornelius Sims to testify. Sowards was a bar patron the night of the shooting and Sims was assigned as lead investigator in the case.

Sowards, an electrical engineer and operations supervisor at the Chugach Electric power plant in Beluga, was a friend and co-worker of the victim.

On the evening of July 26, Sowards said he, another co-worker — Ron Thebeau — and Black went to Fat Albert’s to buy cigarettes and have a couple of beers. He said when they arrived between 9:45 and 10 p.m., Rogers was intoxicated and acting fairly aggressively.

“We were sitting at the bar having a beer ... maybe ordered a duck fart,” he said, naming a drink made with cream sherry and whiskey.

“On a couple occasions, Shawn got up and was antagonizing a couple people. He kissed Mr. Thebeau on the cheek, maybe two different times, and Ron kinda pushed him off,” Sowards said.

“He would come through the bar and bother people. It seemed he was staggering a little bit,” he said.

“He was drinking a large glass — like a tumbler — of what appeared to be whiskey. I saw Kari Worth fill it one time,” Sowards said.

Worth, Rogers’ girlfriend, was working as the bartender at Fat Albert’s the night of the shooting.

Sowards said that immediately before the shooting, he heard some words being exchanged between Black, who was sitting next to him, and Rogers.

He didn’t know what was said, but then heard Black ask Rogers: “Are you talking to me?”

“When I heard it, I looked back to my right and saw Shawn Rogers sitting in the corner. Within a second, he pulled a gun above the bar at he pointed it at Brian.

“I’m looking down the barrel of a gun,” Sowards said.

“Brian said, ‘You pull a gun on me?’

“He pushes back from the bar, he gets up and goes around towards Mr. Rogers.

“I got up and I was moving back.

“I looked back across the bar and Brian is closing with Rogers.

“I looked away ... I couldn’t look,” Sowards said.

He then heard the gun go off and saw a muzzle flash in his peripheral vision, he told the jury.

Sowards said he went down on his knee behind the bar, heard “what sounded like a struggle” and then heard Thebeau say, “I got the gun.”

When Sowards got up again and went around the corner of the bar, he said he saw his friend lying on the ground.

“He looked like he was dead,” he said.

Sowards then went to the back bar area and demanded to use the phone. He called 911.

During cross examination, Eric Derleth, who is assisting defense attorney Chuck Robinson represent Rogers, asked Sowards if he remembered telling the grand jury it was his impression the second shot killed Black, and now he is saying it was the first shot.

“Until recently you believed Black was killed by the second shot?” asked Derleth.

“Yes,” said Sowards.

“Why did you change (your story)?” Derleth asked.

“In going over it in my mind, the reason the gun jammed was it had a bad round; it didn’t have enough powder to eject the casing; the bullet had no deformation; it just bounced around and landed on the floor,” Sowards said.

“You said before you thought it was the second shot because they were still struggling after the first shot,” said Derleth, adding Black would not still be struggling if he were already dead.

“I don’t think I said struggle,” said Sowards.

Before the trial recessed for the weekend, Leaders began direct questioning of Sims. Cross examination by the defense is expected to begin at 8:30 this morning.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@

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