The Shawn Rogers murder case was turned over to the Kenai jury for deliberations Friday, the end of the trial’s fifth week.
The jury of nine women and three men agreed to deliberate Saturday and resume Monday if necessary.
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.
Before assistant district attorney Scot Leaders and defense attorney Chuck Robinson made their final arguments, Judge Larry Card, serving as judge pro-tem, told jurors Rogers is charged with one count of first-degree murder, and instructed them that they may find the defendant guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Leaders portrayed the case as being “all about bad choices,” saying Rogers took a loaded weapon into a bar; he was drinking; he got upset; he pulled the gun and pointed it across the bar at Black; Black approached Rogers; Rogers followed him as he came around the corner of the bar; Rogers pulled the trigger twice.
It was not surprising people saw different things that night, said Leaders, but one constant element was repeated by all the witnesses: “At the time Mr. Black was shot by Mr. Rogers, there are only two people in that corner.”
He also said, “The physical evidence in the case corroborates the accounts of what the eyewitnesses tell us.”
Leaders explained how the first of the two shots was the killing shot and said, from the medical examiner’s report, the direction the bullet took through Black’s body corroborates the accounts of the witnesses.
“It doesn’t get much better than that as far as he caused the death of Mr. Black ... but it does,” said Leaders.
Leaders replayed the tape recording of Rogers asking Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Dane Gilmore about Black’s condition the night of the shooting. On the tape, Rogers can be heard whimpering when informed that Black is dead.
“That is the sound of a man crying and weeping when he finds out his actions caused the death of Mr. Black,” said Leaders.
“Those are not the sounds of a man who did nothing.
“That is the response crying, weeping, sobbing of a man who knows he’s killed another person,” Leaders said.
When Leaders recalled witness testimony that Rogers made statements of being sorry and not meaning to do it, Rogers sat at the defense table in the courtroom with his chin in his hands, shaking his head back and forth.
Following Leaders’ closing argument, Robinson reminded jurors it is not their job to solve the case, but rather to ascertain whether the state proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
As he has done throughout the trial, Robinson continued to criticize the state’s investigation of the shooting, and said, “The lack of evidence may be sufficient to establish reasonable doubt.
“The state’s investigation was poor; it bordered on recklessness; there was even some dirty pool going on,” he said.
“None of the state’s witnesses or the physical evidence prove Mr. Rogers stuck a .45 in the side of Mr. Black and killed him,” Robinson said.
He said the state’s eight witnesses told the story in eight ways, none of which “support the state’s one way of what happened.”
The defense has argued throughout the trial that Black, Chuck Thome and Ron Thebeau rushed Rogers to get his gun away from him and throw him out of the bar. In doing so, the gun went off, killing Black.
“What did the state do to determine if anyone’s hands may have been on the gun?” he asked rhetorically.
“Did they check for fingerprints on the gun? Gunshot residue? Photograph anyone’s hands? Nothing,” he said. “Because they made a rush to judgment after a 10-minute interview with Chuck Thome.”
Robinson said if Thome and Thebeau both co-workers of Black’s at the Chugach Electric power plant in Beluga were involved in the accidental shooting of Black, they would have had motive to lie.
“Thome and Thebeau are lying,” Robinson said.
He also challenged the testimony of Phil Rice, another co-worker and state’s witness.
“Those three men talked after this incident ... they were friends, co-workers. They influenced each other’s stories,” he said.
“I submit to you there’s just too much doubt to prove Shawn Rogers shot Mr. Black,” Robinson said.
Continuing his criticism, Robinson said the state did nothing to determine where the bullet that was found on the floor came from.
“It has a crease in it. It hit something hard,” he said.
After the lead case investigator, Trooper Cornelius Sims, was transferred to the Dillingham trooper post in the spring of 2005, “This investigation became a ship without a captain,” Robinson said.
“With this rush to judgment, they thought even a caveman could do it,” he said. “Their mind was already made up one hour into the investigation, but they didn’t solve it.”
Robinson told the jurors, “If you’re not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, you must ... it’s your duty ... you must acquit.”
In his rebuttal, Leaders said it is not uncommon for two honest people to witness an event and to see and remember different things.
“At the time of the shot, no one puts anyone other than those two people in the corner Mr. Black and Mr. Rogers,” said Leaders.
“There really aren’t inconsistencies relative to the important issue in this case,” he said.
Leaders pointed to inconsistencies in Rogers’ own testimony and said his statements are not supported by any other witnesses.
“There’s no one in this case that has greater incentive to lie ... he’s the only one who’s been arrested,” Leaders said.
He said defense criticisms about such omissions as gunshot residue and harvesting a gouge mark in the barroom floor possibly cause by a gunshot “don’t go to the issue of the case: who shot Mr. Black.
“They show how the floor got shot,” he said.
“Because Mr. Rogers set in motion the chain of events that caused the death of Mr. Black, (it) makes him responsible,” Leaders said. “At a minimum, he knowingly and recklessly caused the death of Brian Black.”
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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