Jurors set to deliberate fate of officer who shot unarmed man
Legal wrangling bogged down the final day of testimony in the murder trial of an Oklahoma City police officer who shot and killed an unarmed suicidal man.
The issues began when the trial judge limited the testimony of the last defense witness, a former Henderson, Nevada, police officer who specializes in use of force training.
The defendant's attorney then threatened to challenge the ruling to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to try to get it reversed.
The attorney, Gary James, argued the witness should be allowed to testify about Sgt. Keith Sweeney's state of mind when he fatally shot Dustin Pigeon. He said limiting James Borden's testimony "restricts my defense."
The defense attorney changed his mind about challenging the ruling, but asked District Judge Natalie Mai to declare a mistrial. She denied the request and prohibited Borden from "placing himself in the shoes of Sgt. Sweeney at the scene of the shooting."
James was allowed to question the witness for about an hour. His testimony was slowed by several objections, prompting James to tell the jury, "I am unable to proceed with questioning."
Jurors will begin deliberating Monday.
Sweeney, 34, is charged with second-degree murder. He faces 10 years to life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors allege the shooting was unreasonable and unjustified.
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Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater asked the judge to exclude Borden from testifying as an expert witness, citing a lack of credentials.
"He did not evaluate the defendant. He did not interview the defendant. He did not perform any accepted psychological tests on the defendant," Prater said.
Prater argued Borden's testimony would be "complete speculation."
Sweeney fatally shot Pigeon, 29, about 2:30 a.m. Nov. 15, 2017, after the victim called 911 threatening suicide.Officers Troy Nitzky and Erik Howell were the first to respond to the courtyard of a housing complex in southwest Oklahoma City. Both were wearing body cameras.
Nitzky was pointing a less-lethal bean-bag shotgun at Pigeon, who was holding a can of lighter fluid and a disposable lighter and threatening to set himself on fire. Howell never removed his weapon from its holster.They approached Pigeon and attempted to de-escalate the situation, asking him to put down the lighter fluid and lighter.
A few seconds later, Sweeney, who was not wearing a body camera, approached Pigeon with his gun drawn yelling, "Drop it!"The video played for jurors shows the flashlight attached to Sweeney's handgun shining on Pigeon. Sweeney then shouts, "I will (expletive) shoot you! Get on the ground!"Pigeon lowers his hands to waist level and Nitzky fires one round from his bean bag shotgun, striking Pigeon in the left hip. About the same time, Sweeney fires five shots with his 9 mm handgun, striking Pigeon three times.Sweeney then asked, "Is that a knife in his hand?" Howell responds, "It's lighter fluid." Sweeney then tells Nitzky, "I didn't know you had a bean bag."Nitzky and Howell previously testified that Pigeon didn't pose a threat. Two training officers told jurors Sweeney forced the issue after the other officers had already engaged Pigeon.
James contends Sweeney didn't know whether Pigeon had a weapon and was unaware Nitzky was aiming a bean bag shotgun at the victim because the other two officers didn't share the information.
Sweeney told police interviewers he thought Pigeon was holding a knife. James said his client made the proper decision based on the information he was given.