When the defense in the Shawn Rogers murder trial asked what the victim could have done rather than confront the gun-toting Rogers, a state witness responded, “You mean stay and pray?”
The rhetorical question was posed by Bill Gifford, a former Alaska State Trooper cold case investigator who was hired by the state to reconstruct the scene of the 2004 shooting in a Beluga bar that left Brian Black dead.
As the Kenai Superior Court trial entered its fifth week Monday, assistant district attorney Scot Leaders had asked Gifford what Rogers could have done instead of allegedly shooting Black.
Gifford said Rogers could have put his gun back in its holster, he could have left the tavern when he said he was going to, and he could have unloaded the .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun without firing.
Eric Derleth, the lawyer assisting defense attorney Chuck Robinson in the case, then asked Gifford what Black could have done instead of moving toward Rogers as Rogers pointed the gun at him, which brought Gifford’s response.
Rogers is the 33-year-old Kenai man charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Black, of Beluga, in Fat Albert’s Tavern and Bunkhouse in Beluga on 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 pushed away from his bar stool and 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.
During his testimony, Gifford told the jury his work involves trying to recreate a crime scene relying on reports of investigators, witness statements, physical evidence from the scene and an autopsy report in cases involving homicide or suicide.
“You get snapshots in time ... never a streaming video,” Gifford said.
When asked by Leaders if he formed an opinion of what happened in this case, Gifford said he had.
“My opinion is that Shawn Rogers shot Brian Black,” Gifford said.
Besides looking at the weapon used, a bullet extracted from Black’s body by the state medical examiner, a bullet found on the floor of the tavern and the victim’s shirt with a bullet hole in the left side, Gifford said his opinion is based on statements from witnesses and the autopsy report.
He said bar patrons Chuck Thome, Ron Thebeau and Mike Sowards reported seeing only Rogers and Black in the corner area of the bar where the shooting occurred; Thome and Thebeau reported seeing the gun; and Thome reported seeing Rogers put the gun to the side of Black and fire.
Gifford said another bar patron, Elsie Giles, said she pulled her friend to the floor behind the bar when the commotion began.
“If she expected a fist fight, she would not have pulled her friend to the floor,” Gifford said. “She must have heard about a gun or she saw a gun.”
Gifford said Phil Rice, also a bar patron, said he was rushing to get out of the tavern and glanced over to where Black was moving towards Rogers.
Rice also said he saw Thome or Thebeau in line with Kari Worth, the bartender and Rogers’ girlfriend, as she was climbing over the bar. Rice said Worth was going over the bar near the corner where Rogers and Black were, but Worth testified to climbing over at another spot, toward the front of the bar.
If Thome or Thebeau were lined up with Worth, as Rice said, they must have been near the front of the bar, not in the corner, Gifford said.
When asked by Leaders if he detected any missing statements about the incident, Gifford said nobody said someone else shot Black.
“Who protested that Rogers was the person being restrained?” asked Leaders.
“No one,” Gifford said.
He also said, while medics were keeping an eye on Rogers as troopers conducted witness interviews, Rogers did not protest being arrested.
During cross examination, Derleth asked Gifford if he ever listened to a tape recording of the 911 call the night of the shooting on which Rogers can be heard saying, “I’m innocent.”
Gifford said he did not listen to the tape.
“From the time Mr. Black came around the (corner of the bar), Mr. Rogers could have shot him four times?” asked Derleth.
“Yes,” said Gifford.
“And that didn’t happen?” asked Derleth.
“Correct,” Gifford said.
Derleth asked a series of questions attempting to have Gifford confirm that witnesses talked of a struggle when the shots were fired, but Gifford disagreed, saying Worth did not place anyone other than Rogers and Black in the corner until after the shooting and Rice had Thebeau in line with Worth, going over the bar away from the corner.
Gifford also demonstrated, using a fake gun, how difficult it would have been for Black to pull the trigger and shoot himself, as the defense has suggested.
Gifford said nothing from the evidence indicates that is what happened.
Witness testimony is scheduled to resume this morning at 8:30.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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