Prosecution, defense portray defendant Montgomery in strikingly opposite terms.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.and Gary L. Wright
A prosecutor described Demeatrius Montgomery on Wednesday as a man with “deep-seated hatred for police” that drove him to shoot Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark in 2007.
The lead defense attorney told jurors with equal certainty: “That young man is innocent.”
In this video image, police officers escort Demeatrius Montgomery into CMPD headquarters April 1, 2007, the morning after Officers Sean Clark and Jeffrey Shelton were shot and killed. WCNC-TV
The seven men and five women on the Mecklenburg jury will resume deliberations in the case today, after reviewing evidence for about two hours late Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier, the courtroom in uptown Charlotte was packed with spectators to hear attorneys’ closing arguments. Some who came to watch were turned away. Police Chief Rodney Monroe and homicide detectives sat in the front row behind prosecutors. Montgomery’s father and grandmother sat in a row behind the defense table.
In her final words to jurors, Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow portrayed Montgomery as a man who shot Shelton and Clark solely because they were officers.
“Every fiber in my body will tell you he’s not guilty,” defense attorney Duane Bryant, left, told jurors. At right is co-counsel Bruce Lee. PHOTOS BY DAVID T. FOSTER III – CHARLOTTE OBSERVER
“They were the thin blue line that protected us from chaos, that protected us from crime…,” the prosecutor said of the slain officers. “That thin blue line was breached by a man with hatred in his heart for those who keep us safe.”
Prosecution witnesses had testified Montgomery’s DNA was on the revolver found in the woods near the shooting scene, that gunshot residue was found on Montgomery’s palms and that the handgun found in the woods fired the bullets removed from Clark’s head. Two prosecution witnesses also said they saw Montgomery running with a gun after they heard shots fired.
“Reason and common sense tell you he killed these two officers,” said Mecklenburg County assistant district attorney Marsha Goodenow.
But Montgomery’s attorney, Duane Bryant, told jurors that prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that his client killed the officers. He questioned the validity of the state’s DNA and fingerprint evidence. And he reminded jurors that no witness claimed to have seen Montgomery pull the trigger.
Bryant pointed at Montgomery: “Take a look. Don’t be afraid to look at him. He’s innocent of this crime.”
Montgomery is charged in the March 31, 2007, fatal shootings of Officers Shelton and Clark at the Timber Ridge Apartments in east Charlotte. Prosecutors say the officers were killed during a scuffle with Montgomery; defense attorneys suggested someone else shot the officers in a sneak attack.
Montgomery has pleaded not guilty. If convicted of first-degree murder, he would be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Jurors also will be able to consider whether the police officers’ killings were second-degree murders. Four of the jurors are black. The slain police officers are white; Montgomery is black.
The prosecution’s closing argument came first. Goodenow called Clark and Shelton extraordinary men who had chosen an extraordinary profession. On the night of their killings, they had responded to an unrelated domestic call at Timber Ridge, she said, and had treated the people involved with “respect and kindness.”
The prosecutor said the officers were gunned down after finishing their work at the domestic disturbance. The killings, she said, took just seconds.
“They had no reason to think he was a threat…,” Goodenow said. “They had no reason to know that a man with that kind of hatred was sitting on the porch waiting for them.”
Goodenow recalled what Clark’s young son told him as he left for work on the day his father was shot to death.
“Daddy, go get the bad guys,” the boy said.
Then Goodenow added: “The bad guy got him.”
Jennifer Shelton and Sherry Clark cried as Goodenow talked about their slain husbands.
Goodenow told jurors that Montgomery had not been framed. “Do you really think the Charlotte police department wants the real killer to walk the streets?” she asked.
“Reason and common sense tell you he killed these two officers,” Goodenow said.
Montgomery was the only person seen running from the shooting scene, Goodenow said, and he wasn’t looking behind to see if anyone was following. “He made sure they were down and done and took off running,” she said.
One of the last things Goodenow showed the jurors was a slide that said, “What this case really is about.” Underneath the words were photos of Shelton and Clark.
“You can give Jeff and Sean the one thing they lived for – justice. Justice is first-degree murder…Send (Montgomery) to prison for the rest of his life.”
Defense Attorney Bryant told jurors that prosecutors left too many questions unanswered.
He pointed out that no person had identified Montgomery as the shooter; ballistic tests that point to Montgomery were subjective; there was no blood on Montgomery’s clothes; and witnesses gave conflicting descriptions of the man suspected of shooting the officers.
Bryant presented an alternate theory of what happened that night. He said police assumed they arrested the right man, but he suggested that someone else killed the officers.
“They were shot by parties unknown,” he said.
Half of the prosecution’s witnesses, Bryant said, failed to identify Montgomery.
“For three-and-a half-years, they had a chance to hash it out, to remix it,” the defense attorney said. “When it comes time to put up or shut up, they said, ‘I can’t identify the man.’ Because they know what you know – that justice requires getting it right.”
Bryant said the jury should require more proof before locking a man up for the rest of his life.
“If you’re going to tie this man to the crime, tie him…,” he said. “Bring the proof in here.”
The prosecutors, Bryant said, had failed to give jurors a complete picture of what happened.
“You’re jurors. You decide whether they can bring in just a piece of evidence and point the finger and say, ‘This person is guilty because I said so,’ ” Bryant said. “You can’t just pick out the good pieces and say ‘the good pieces are what make our case.’ ”
As he neared the end of his closing argument, Bryant turned to his co-counsel, Bruce Lee, and told him to stand.
“We represent Mr. Montgomery,” Bryant said. “Every fiber in my body will tell you he’s not guilty of this crime.”
Bryant then spoke to the jurors about their duty. “You can fight for justice. You can fight to get it right…Now is the time for you to do what is right.”