Tag Archives: crime scene expert witness

Forensic Video Expert Witness Testifies in Murder Trial

A forensic video analyst served as a crime scene expert witness in a murder trial this week in an effort to aid defense attorneys reconstructing the circumstances leading up to a deadly shooting incident. Grant Fredericks, a teacher at the FBI National Academy, took the stand as an expert witness in the murder trial of Antonio Hutchins who argues that he shot the victim in self-defense and should not be found guilty of murder.

Defense Attorneys Turn to Video Evidence

On June 25, 2013 a shooting outside of Save More Foods killed Cederick “Joe” Matlock and William Burt of Waterloo, Iowa. While Hutchins and his attorneys do not deny that he was responsible for the shooting, they have countered that he acted in self-defense after Matlock threatened him with a rifle the previous week in the Save More parking lot and made a threatening motion to him directly before the shooting began. In an effort to demonstrate that Hutchins was defending himself at the time of the shooting, defense attorneys compiled footage from nearby surveillance cameras for a display to the jury.

A total of 11 surveillance cameras were positioned near the shooting, however only one of them was in a position to record the shooting. The one camera able to document the incident was from an auto repair shop across the street from the parking lot, making the action difficult to follow and the people on camera difficult to discern. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the surveillance footage display, the defendant called upon forensic video expert witness Grant Fredericks.

Video Expert Witness Aids Murder Trial

Fredericks, who operates Forensic Video Solutions in Spokane, WA, is a video analyst expert with extensive background in forensic camera work. During his expert testimony, Fredericks broke down the compiled video footage using a variety of camera angles to recreate the scene for jurors. Defense attorneys for Hutchins requested that Fredericks identify the key figures in the shooting before, during, and after the incident and explain to the jury what the video tape showed.

While breaking down the video footage, Fredericks identified Hutchins and a friend of his speaking to someone in a car in the Save More parking lot at 6 PM and 13 seconds before being approached by Matlock, Burt, and some other acquaintances at 6 PM and 34 seconds. Moments later, at 6 PM and 47 seconds, everyone begins to flee when Hutchins begins shooting. Although the cameras were able to provide a video recreation of the homicide, the audio was difficult to sync up due to the use of several different cameras. While the defense attorneys for Hutchins did not ask Fredericks to identify the threat that the defendant perceived, such a factual conclusion is impermissible from an expert, they did have the video expert demonstrate to the jury that the surveillance footage captured a scene that fit with the defendant’s story of the crime: Matlock and his friends approached him, made threatening overtures (not clear on the video), and he began shooting.

Prosecutors Question Usefulness of Video Expert Witness

In response to the testimony by the defense team’s video expert witness, prosecutors focused on two main points in cross-examination. First, the video provided by Fredericks did not indicate that Matlock was an aggressor in the situation. Although Fredericks was able to piece together complete footage of the event from the 11 available security cameras, the footage was too blurry and distant to allow for jurors to get a clear view of how the incident transpired.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, prosecutors had Fredericks concede that the video he compiled did not show any obstacles or blocks to Hutchins’ path that would have prevented the defendant from running instead of opening fire. By having Fredericks confirm that his footage told a second story – that Hutchins could have run away to avoid a violent encounter – prosecutors were able to take advantage of the defense team’s expert witness.

Ultimately, the Hutchins murder trial will likely turn on other, more significant, evidence, but by calling Fredericks as a video expert witness, the defense attorneys were able to set a scene that makes their narrative plausible. Whether or not the rest of their evidence can fill in the gaps that Fredericks’ video leaves open remains to be determined, but using an expert to establish the credibility of the defendant’s story lays a good foundation for the rest of the case.

Florida Expert Witnesses Duel Over Murder Scene

A murder trial in Florida has become a dueling ground for competing crime scene expert witnesses who debated body position of the shooting victim.  In the retrial of Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old man accused of murdering a teenager, both prosecution and defense attorneys relied on expert testimony in an effort to paint a clear picture to jurors about the details of the violent incident.

Michael Dunn Accused of First Degree Murder

The confrontation between Dunn and victim Jordan Davis occurred the day after Thanksgiving in 2012 at a gas station parking lot in Duval County, Florida.  Dunn, who was parked in his car with his now ex-fiance, pulled up next to the SUV that Davis and three other teenagers were sitting in.  Dunn asked the teenagers to turn down their rap music, which led to a heated argument between the two, which eventually led to the 47-year-old firing several shots into Davis’ vehicle, killing the 17-year-old.

Dunn claimed that he fired in self-defense after being threatened, which is a claim disputed by the three surviving teenagers who were at the scene.  In January of this year, a jury deadlocked on the charge of murder in the first degree, but convicted Dunn of attempted second degree murder of the other three boys.  Dunn, who is serving a 60-year-sentence for his previous convictions, faces life in prison without parole if this jury finds him guilty of the first degree murder charge.

Prosecutors Present Crime Scene Expert Witness

To dispute Dunn’s claim that he fired on the boys, the prosecution called as its final witness Stacey Simons, a former forensic pathologist with the Duval County Medical Examiner’s Office.  Simons testified that Davis was sitting in the right rear of the SUV in which he was shot and killed, leaning away from Dunn’s vehicle at the time of the incident.  Using trajectory rods between her body and an anatomical doll, Simon told jurors she believed the bullets pierced the door of the SUV and hit Davis while he was trying to get away from Dunn’s vehicle.

According to Simon’s expert testimony, Davis could not have been outside of the vehicle moving towards Dunn given the position he died in.  Simon’s expert opinion directly contradicts Dunn’s claim that he acted out of fear for his life in firing the shots into Davis’ SUV.

Defense Team Hires Crime Reconstruction Expert Witness

In an effort to rebut the testimony of Simons, Dunn’s defense team called Michael Knox, a crime-scene reconstruction expert witness to testify that Davis had made a move out of the SUV towards Dunn’s vehicle at the time of the shooting.  Knox analyzed the crime scene, and told jurors that he was “100 percent certain that the right rear door of the Durango was open.”  Going further, Knox claimed that had Davis been sitting, he would not have been hit by the bullets fired by Dunn, meaning that the teenager had been moving out of the seat at the time of the shooting.

Knox also testified that because of the poor lighting at the gas station, it was possible for Dunn to believe that Davis had been holding a gun, even it was unclear whether or not he had one.  Although Knox admitted he did not know how open the door was or exactly how far outside the door Davis was, but he assured jurors that Davis was not sitting in the car or leaning away from Dunn.

Expert Witnesses Likely to Influence Murder Verdict

With both sides relying heavily on expert witness testimony to demonstrate the likelihood of Dunn’s claim that he acted out of fear for his own safety, the expert crime-scene testimony is likely to heavily influence the verdict.  Jurors will determine Dunn’s fate later this week.