Expert: Bullet from body matched to officer's gun
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A bullet removed from the body of a teenager gunned down on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina matched an assault rifle used by a police officer charged in the deadly shootings, a firearms expert testified Wednesday.
Patrick Lane testified as a government witness in the trial of five current or former officers, now in its third week. He said a bullet that ricocheted into the back of 17-year-old James Brissette matched an AK-47 rifle that Sgt. Kenneth Bowen fired on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the 2005 storm.
Lane, who works in the Louisiana State Police's crime lab, examined several other bullets and buckshot pellets removed from Brissette's body but couldn't definitively match them to any of the guns fired by officers on the bridge.
Federal prosecutors say police shot and killed Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison and wounded four other people without justification. Michael Hunter, one of five former officers who have pleaded guilty in the case, has testified he saw Bowen lean over a concrete barrier where Brissette and several others tried to find cover and randomly sprayed the wounded, unarmed people with AK-47 gunfire.
Lane also examined buckshot pellets removed from Brissette and Madison, a mentally disabled man whom former officer Robert Faulcon allegedly shot in the back with a shotgun. Lane said there isn't a scientific way to match the pellets to a particular shotgun.
A New Orleans Police Department crime scene technician has testified that she recovered more than two dozen ammunition casings and spent shotgun shells from a grassy area next to the bridge several weeks after the shootings. Bowen allegedly kicked casings off the bridge the day before she collected them.
Lane examined the casings and shells collected by the technician. He said he matched nine casings to an assault rifle used by Officer Anthony Villavaso, nine other casings to the rifle used by Bowen, two casings to a handgun used by Bowen and four spent shells to a shotgun used by Faulcon.
Villavaso, Bowen, Faulcon and Sgt. Robert Gisevius are charged in the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings. Retired Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, is charged with participating in a cover-up to make police actions appear justified.
Gisevius allegedly fired an M4 assault rifle on the bridge, but the gun wasn't turned over to investigators. Lane said one of the bullets recovered from Brissette's body could have come from an M4 rifle, but he didn't have a gun like that to examine for a possible match.
Jurors also heard testimony Wednesday from forensic pathologists who performed autopsies on Brissette and Madison's bodies.
Dr. Dana Troxclair, who worked for the city coroner's office, said Brissette had seven gunshot wounds, including fatal wounds to the neck and the back of the head.
Tests detected trace amounts of alcohol in "purge fluid" — a byproduct of decomposition — taken from Brissette's body. Troxclair said the alcohol most likely was naturally produced by bacteria in the fluid and didn't come from drinking.
Eric Hessler, Gisevius' attorney, has asked several witnesses if they saw Brissette drinking before the shooting. So far, none has said they did.
Dr. James Traylor Jr., who performed the autopsy on Madison's body, said he found seven gunshot wounds. All seven entrance wounds were on his back.
Traylor said the wounds could have been caused by only one or two shots. A shotgun could have caused the wounds, but a "high-velocity rifle" couldn't have, he testified.