The defense attorney in the Shawn Rogers murder trial ripped apart the state trooper investigation of the crime, saying the lead investigator never determined why or how the shooting occurred.
During his cross examination of Alaska State Trooper Cornelius Sims, who was assigned as the lead investigator in the case, Rogers’ attorney, Chuck Robinson, left jurors with the impression Sims worked to prove Rogers guilty, but failed in his duty to rule out the victim or other witnesses as suspects.
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.
Witnesses who testified earlier in the trial, which began with opening statements Feb. 7, said Black and Rogers exchanged words at the bar, Rogers pulled a loaded .45-caliber handgun and pointed it at Black, Black went and confronted Rogers, the gun went off twice and Black fell to the floor dead.
An autopsy reportedly revealed a bullet entered Black’s left side below the armpit, severed his aorta and lodged in his lower spine. Another bullet was found on the floor of the tavern.
The defense has argued Rogers did not pull the trigger, but the gun went off during a struggle and the victim himself may have caused it to fire.
On Monday, Robinson asked Sims where the other bullet was found.
“It was found near the body,” said Sims.
“You don’t know exactly where?” asked Robinson.
“No,” Sims said.
“That piece of evidence was lost forever?” asked Robinson.
“Yes,” said Sims.
Robinson pursued a similar line of questioning about a spent bullet casing that was found on an amplifier near the body.
He pointed out for the jury that the brass casing would have ejected from the right side of the handgun, but the amplifier was located behind and to the left of Rogers.
Sims was unable to explain whether the casing landed there after ricocheting off something or if someone picked it up later and placed it on the amplifier.
“Do you know which shot killed Mr. Black?” asked Robinson.
“No,” said Sims.
The bullet casing from the second shot jammed in the slide of the semiautomatic handgun, causing what has been referred to as a stovepipe malfunction because the casing sticks out of the gun like a stovepipe.
Robinson wanted to know why the gun was not tested for fingerprints because one cause of a stovepipe malfunction is someone’s hand being in the way of the slide as it moves to eject the brass and reload the weapon.
“No one was around when the gun went off,” said Sims.
“Mr. Black and Mr. Rogers were around,” said Robinson.
“You never had the gun examined for latent fingerprints of Mr. Black?” Robinson asked.
“In my experience, there would have been others’ fingerprints on the gun,” Sims said.
Robinson asked why Black’s hands were not inspected for gunshot residue or burns from the gun going off.
Sims said the hands would have been checked during an autopsy.
“... And you have the responsibility to eliminate the victims and witnesses (as suspects)?” asked Robinson. “What did you do to try to collect evidence to eliminate Mr. Black ... as not in any way being involved in the stovepipe incident?”
Kari Worth, Rogers’ girlfriend and the bartender on duty the night of the shooting, testified earlier that she had jumped over the bar after hearing a gunshot, and pulled several other patrons off her boyfriend.
After the shooting, a number of witnesses testified that they grabbed Rogers and tied him up with belts to detain him until troopers arrived.
“Was it important to know Kari Worth told (Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Barry) Wilson she jumped over the bar to break up a fight?” asked Robinson. “Did you get in touch with Kari Worth to find out more about who was involved in the fight?”
“No,” said Sims. “From the information we had, I felt we had a good understanding of what had occurred.”
“Tell me one follow-up interview you did,” said Robinson.
“I didn’t do any follow up,” said Sims.
Robinson asked Sims if he knew Rogers had made a statement to another trooper that he was jumped, someone took his gun, it went off and somebody died.
Sims said he had heard that later, but from statements he had received from witnesses, Black and Rogers were involved, shots went off and then others got involved.
“Did you follow up with what the other troopers were doing?” asked Robinson.
“No,” said Sims.
“So the right hand of the investigation didn’t know what the left hand was doing?” Robinson asked rhetorically.
Robinson also asked about a gouge mark found in the barroom floor near where Black’s body was and about a piece of wood believed to have been shot out by one of the gunshots.
“Did it occur to you to seize the piece of wood? It could have provided information as to the trajectory of the bullet that might have caused the gouge,” said Robinson.
“No, it didn’t occur to me at the time,” said Sims.
Robinson told Sims he did not do a fair, thorough and impartial investigation. He did not do any follow-up interviews.
“I did what I considered to be a thorough investigation,” Sims said.
He said additional information, such as where the bullet or casing were found and where the body was immediately following the shooting, did not change what his investigation showed: that two people were there and one was shot.
Witness testimony is slated to resume this morning at 8:30.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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