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.