MARKSVILLE, La. – Two Louisiana law enforcement officers weren’t in any danger when they fired a barrage of bullets at a car, killing a 6-year-old autistic boy and critically wounding his father, a prosecutor said Monday at the start of a murder trial for one of the officers.
But an attorney for Derrick Stafford blamed the deadly confrontation on Jeremy Mardis’ father, calling him “the author of that child’s fate.” Defence attorney Jonathan Goins said the father, Christopher Few, led officers on a dangerous, high-speed chase and rammed a deputy’s vehicle before the shooting.
“Innocent people do not run from the police. Innocent people stop their vehicles, surrender to the police,” Goins said during the trial’s opening statements.
Prosecutors say none of the father’s actions that night can justify the deadly response by Stafford and another deputy city marshal, Norris Greenhouse Jr.
Video from a police officer’s body camera shows Few had his hands raised inside his vehicle “in a universal sign of surrender” while the officers fired their semi-automatic pistols, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Derbes said. At least four of their 18 shots ripped into the child’s body while he was strapped into the front seat.
Few didn’t stop for the officers because he was worried about what would happen to his son if he was arrested, Derbes said.
“He’s going to tell you it’s the biggest mistake of his life,” Derbes told jurors.
Stafford, 33, and Greenhouse, 25, are charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the November 2015 shooting. Greenhouse awaits a separate trial later this year.
Marksville Police Lt. Kenneth Parnell, whose body camera captured the shooting, testified Monday that he brandished his gun but didn’t fire it at the car because he didn’t fear for his life.
“I never saw Mr. Few’s hands,” Parnell said.
Parnell acknowledged telling investigators that he pulled his gun out of concern for “officer safety.”
“I pull my gun in any situation like that,” he said.
Jeremy’s grandmothers and an aunt wept softly and consoled each other as jurors watched the graphic video from the shooting. At least two jurors also wiped tears away.
Defence lawyers argue the officers acted in self-defence. Stafford’s attorneys have claimed Few drove recklessly as he led officers on a 2-mile (3-kilometre) chase and then rammed into Greenhouse’s vehicle as he exited it, before the officers opened fire.
However, a state police detective has testified there isn’t any physical evidence that Few’s car collided with Greenhouse’s vehicle.
Few has never publicly spoken about the shooting that killed his son. Derbes described him as a loving father who took full custody of him after breaking up with the boy’s mother, who lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Defence attorneys have been attacking Few’s credibility for months before the trial. Stafford’s lawyers have said Few had drugs in his system at the time of the shooting and had recently survived a suicide attempt.
Goins accused authorities of conducting a sloppy investigation and rushing to judgment, arresting the two deputies less than a week after the shooting.
“Political pressure rather than the law is what drove this case,” Goins said.
Last week, attorneys asked prospective jurors if race could influence their verdict, or if they’ve heard arguments that race was a factor in the investigation. Both officers are black. Few is white, as was his son.
Investigators traced 14 shell casings to Stafford’s gun and four other casings to Greenhouse’s gun. Three of the four bullet fragments recovered from Jeremy’s body matched Stafford’s weapon; another couldn’t be matched to either deputy.
Ballistics evidence shows none of the 18 shots fired by the two deputies hit the front or back of Few’s car, according to Derbes, citing that as evidence that neither deputy was in danger.
“Cars don’t move sideways,” the prosecutor said.
Stafford, a Marksville police lieutenant, and Greenhouse, a former Marksville police officer, were moonlighting on the night of the shooting in the central Louisiana town. Stafford also worked part-time as a deputy city marshal in nearby Alexandria, but he was fired from that job after his arrest.