The lead investigator in the 2004 Beluga tavern homicide explained to jurors in the Shawn Rogers murder trial Tuesday why he did not collect gunshot residue and fingerprint evidence, and recanted an earlier statement that he did not do follow-up interviews during his investigation.
When asked by defense attorney Chuck Robinson on Monday to tell him what follow-up interview he did, Alaska State Trooper investigator Cornelius Sims said he didn’t do any follow up.
During re-direct questioning by assistant district attorney Scot Leaders on Tuesday, Sims said he did in fact conduct a follow-up interview with witness Phil Rice, and with paramedics who tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate the victim after the shooting.
Sims said he also did follow-up interviews with bar patrons Chuck Thome and Ron Thebeau at 7 a.m. the morning after the shooting took place.
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 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.
The defense has argued the gun went off during a struggle.
On Tuesday, Sims also told Leaders he conducted follow-ups with physical evidence gathered at the scene.
He said he sent the gun, the ammunition magazine, bullet casings and live rounds from the magazine to the state Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory.
When asked by Leaders why he did not test for gunshot residue on the hands of the victim or other bar patrons, Sims said, “It’s easily transferred. It wouldn’t show me who fired the gun or who pulled the trigger.”
“Did you have information that anyone else touched the gun?” asked Leaders.
“Yes. Miss Worth handled the gun before and someone picked it up after the shooting,” said Sims, referring to Kari Worth, who was working as the Fat Albert’s bartender the night of the shooting and is Rogers’ girlfriend.
She testified earlier that she had placed Rogers’ handgun on the back bar while he drank in the tavern and returned it to him when he said he was going home shortly before the shooting occurred.
Sims said he “did not see the utility in fingerprinting the gun” because Worth, Rogers and Thebeau had all touched the gun.
During additional questioning by Robinson, Sims said he did not conduct a follow-up interview with Rogers because the suspect had told troopers at the scene he did not want to make a statement.
“I respected his right to counsel,” said Sims.
Following Sims’ testimony, the state called Alaska Bureau of Investigation Sgt. Dane Gilmore to the witness stand.
Gilmore and trooper Sgt. Barry Wilson were the first law enforcement officers on the scene, having flown across Cook Inlet with two paramedics from the Nikiski Fire Department.
Gilmore said when he first arrived at Fat Albert’s he saw the victim on the barroom floor being attended to by medics, and Gilmore went directly to Rogers to see whether he had been injured.
Rogers had been bound at the ankles and wrists with belts from some of the tavern patrons. Gilmore said he removed the belts and handcuffed Rogers.
“It was pretty chaotic,” said Gilmore, upon his arrival at the tavern. “Everybody wanted to be the first to talk.”
Gilmore said he removed Rogers to a back living room area, away from the chaos of the bar.
He said he did not hear Rogers make any statements regarding the shooting.
He also said Thebeau told him he secured the gun, and led Gilmore to an area in the tavern entrance way where he had placed the handgun atop a framed door leaning against a wall.
“He produced the gun with the magazine removed,” said Gilmore.
Gilmore said he took the weapon and placed it in his backpack in the living room area where it would not be tampered with.
Afterwards, he interviewed Thome and Elsie Giles, another patron, to try to learn what happened in the bar.
After speaking with District Attorney June Stein by phone, Gilmore said he arrested Rogers telling him he was being charged with first-degree murder.
“I sent Sgt. Wilson with Mr. Rogers to get him to a real jail,” Gilmore said. Rogers was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility in Kenai.
Gilmore said he and Sims then processed the scene, measuring the room and the bar, photographing and collecting physical evidence and conducting a preliminary examination of Black’s body to determine the number of bullet holes and entrance and exit wounds.
“Once permission was received (from the state medical examiner), we removed the body,” Gilmore said.
Black’s body was sent to the crime lab for an autopsy.
Testimony in the trial is scheduled to continue this morning at 8:30.
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