Attorneys for Cleveland officer charged in deadly shooting call expert to review autopsies

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Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo sits next to his attorneys on April 28, 2015.

CLEVELAND- The trial of a Cleveland police officer charged in the November 2012 deadly police chase and shooting resumed Wednesday afternoon.

Michael Brelo, 31, is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. The pair lead police on a 22-minute chase that ended with gunfire behind Heritage Middle School on Nov. 20, 2012.

WARNING: Descriptions and photos in the blog below may be considered graphic.

On Tuesday, the defense called forensic criminologist Dr. Ron Martinelli, who argued that an officer just has to perceive a threat to justify use of deadly force. He said Brelo’s response was reasonable and appropriate, and he had probable cause to shoot. His report also described Officer Brelo’s actions as “bizarre.”

“He left one position and exposed himself more than we are trained,” Martinelli said on Wednesday.

He said if Russell and Williams would have stopped the car, then the events leading to their deaths would not have happened.

Assistant prosecutor Jim Gutierrez’s cross examination was emotional at times, as the attorney and Martinelli raised their voices and interrupted each other.

“I’m not a minder reader, I put down the forensic facts,” Martinelli said during one exchange.

“You’re not a scientist and you’re not a doctor, is that right?” Gutierrez said.

Next, the defense called pathologist Dr. Susan J. Roe, who works in Fort Worth, Texas, to review the autopsies. She concluded Williams and Russell were already dead by the time Officer Brelo fired shots from the hood of the suspect’s car.

Prosecutors claim Brelo acted beyond the scope of a police officer when he fired 49 shots into Russell’s Malibu. But defense attorney maintain their client was trying to protect himself and his fellow officers.

Continuing coverage of the Michael Brelo trial here.

Jen Steer April 29, 20151:21 pm

Judge John O’Donnell has another case to hear so we’ll start a little late.

Jen Steer April 29, 20151:39 pm

The final witness for the defense is not available until tomorrow so it sounds like they will wrap up their case then.

Jen Steer April 29, 20151:51 pm

Dr. Ron Martinelli, a forensic criminologist, is back on the stand this afternoon for cross examination.

Jen Steer April 29, 20151:57 pm

Martinelli says he does not like to speculate in his reports, but assistant prosecuting attorney Jim Gutierrez points out that Martinelli is commenting on Officer Brelo’s perceptions. Gutierrez is raising him voice, saying the report is all speculation. “You’re a pretty emotional fella, aren’t you?” Martinelli says in response.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:00 pm

“‘Distance and cover are your friends.’ That’s what you wrote, correct?'” Gutierrez asks Dr. Martinelli. He’s arguing that Brelo went against training when he moved from behind a cruiser to stand on a car in the middle of the shooting.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:02 pm

Martinelli says Officer Brelo and the other officers had intense fear for their lives. “Isn’t that when their training should kick in?” the prosecuting attorney asks. “Ideally, yes,” Martinlli says.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:06 pm

“He left one position and exposed himself more than we are trained,” Dr. Martinelli says. He agrees with prosecutors that Officer Brelo could have been hit by crossfire.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:12 pm

Gutierrez admits he trying to prove Martinelli “basically doesn’t know what he’s talking about” during a conversation with the judge. Martinelli has spent a lot of time on the stand already. You can read more here for yesterday’s coverage:

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:21 pm

Assistant prosecutor Gutierrez and Dr. Martinelli have different definitions of yes or no question.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:23 pm

Judge O’Donnell jumps in to stop the arguing between Gutierrez and Martinelli. The back and forth is slowly things down.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:32 pm

“I’m not a minder reader, I put down the forensic facts,” Martinelli says. He says he formulated Brelo’s perspective by reading statements made to BCI days after the shooting. Gutierrez is fired up still about Martinelli’s qualifications. “You’re not a scientist and you’re not a doctor, is that right?” The judge puts a stop to this.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:33 pm

Martinelli says if Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams would have stopped the car, then the series of events leading to their deaths would not have happened.

Jen Steer April 29, 20152:46 pm

Short break. Maybe Gutierrez and Martinelli will cool down.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:08 pm

Dr. Ron Martinelli has a 5:45 flight. I don’t think he’s going to make it. The cross examination has lasted nearly four hours.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:11 pm

Assistant prosecutor Gutierrez asks Martinelli if his Twitter account proves he has a bias in favor of police. Here’s his account:

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:14 pm

Once again Judge O’Donnell has to break up the arguing between Gutierrez and Martinelli. I feel bad for the court reporter. They both speak fast and interrupt each other.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:16 pm

Dr. Martinelli described Officer Brelo’s actions the night of the shooting as “bizarre.” Gutierrez takes it a step further and reads the dictionary definition of bizarre. Martinelli says his use of bizarre doesn’t contradict his opinion that Brelo acted reasonably.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:18 pm

Now onto redirect examination. Defense attorney Pat D’Angelo walks over to the model of the shooting scene for his questioning of Dr. Ron Martinelli. His questions are short and simple.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:27 pm

D’Angelo shows Martinelli a few photos of officers, explaining the hand gestures made by Malissa Williams while in Timothy Russell’s car. This one is of Officer Gonzales. Martinelli says they are acting as though they have a gun.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:40 pm

Dr. Ron Martinelli steps down from the stand is free to catch his flight back home.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:42 pm

Defense calls Dr. Susan J. Roe, a forensic pathologist since 1988. She currently works in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Dr. Roe estimates she’s conducted between 6,000 and 7,000 autopsies. She’s testified in court hundreds of times.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:46 pm

Dr. Roe has never worked with Martinelli and Associations, the firm owned by Dr. Ron Martinelli, the previous witness.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:51 pm

Dr. Roe was asked by the defense to review the autopsies of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Many of the photos on the screen in the courtroom will be autopsy photos, so I won’t be able to see them in the media room. I’ll be unable to describe them here.

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:55 pm

Similar to how the prosecution had Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s pathologist Dr. Felo and former pathology fellow Dr. Wiens review each wound in the autopsies, the defense is asking Dr. Roe to describe the same wounds. Much of Dr. Wiens’ testimony is covered here:

Jen Steer April 29, 20153:58 pm

Short break. Check back in a few for more updates.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:12 pm

After Dr. Roe, there are two more witnesses before the defense concludes its case.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:22 pm

Dr. Roe says wound No. 2 to Malissa Williams was potentially fatal on its own.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:29 pm

Dr. Roe says Williams’ wound 9 is potentially lethal, which is the same opinion given by Cuyahoga County pathologist Dr. Felo. Felo said it was anti-mortem, while Roe calls it perimortem, meaning near the time of death.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:31 pm

Dr. Roe says wound 12 could be consistent with being fired from the hood of the car. It caused a tear in the heart. She says wound 13, which hit the torso, was not fired from an elevated position.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:34 pm

“There are so many potential sources of loss of blood,” Dr. Susan Roe says of Williams’ wounds.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:38 pm

Onto Dr. Roe’s report of Timothy Russell. She says wound 1 was pre-mortem and would have rendered Russell unconscious immediately. It is inconsistent with being fired from an elevated position, like when Brelo was standing on the trunk of the patrol car or the hood of the Malibu.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:40 pm

Dr. Roe says wound 2 was lethal on its own and happened when Russell was alive. Both Roe and Dr. Wiens, who worked for the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office at the time, said it would cause instantaneous death.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:42 pm

Dr. Roe demonstrates how Russell would have to sit in his car in order for wound 2 to come from an elevated position.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:44 pm

Dr. Roe says the pathologist who performed the autopsy was unable to tell which wound went with which bullet in Williams’ torso, adding she doubts any pathologist would be able to.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:52 pm

Dr. Roe says Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were already deceased when fired upon by Officer Brelo.

Jen Steer April 29, 20154:56 pm

A spectator asked the bailiff to speak to the judge. The judge, as the finder of fact, cannot talk about the case.

Jen Steer April 29, 20155:00 pm

The woman asking to speak with the judge identifies herself as a preacher and offers her council to the judge. He says he must consider the evidence, the law and the arguments by counsel when he makes his verdict. Judge O’Donnell invites the woman to stay and observe.

Jen Steer April 29, 20155:12 pm

Dr. Susan J. Roe says she’s an independent contractor for her work in Fort Worth.

Jen Steer April 29, 20155:20 pm

We are on cross examination of Dr. Roe. Assistant prosecutor Rick Bell is handling the questioning.

Jen Steer April 29, 20155:27 pm

Bell is asking Dr. Roe about each of the wounds.

Jen Steer April 29, 20155:34 pm

Dr. Roe is doing a lot of flipping through her report. It’s easy to get mixed up when we’re talking about two victims with multiple gunshot wounds.

Jen Steer April 29, 20155:36 pm

Bell asks which wounds are from the trunk of the zone car and which are from the hood of the Malibu. It sounds like Dr. Roe did not note which came from the patrol car.

Jen Steer April 29, 20155:43 pm

We’re done for the day. Dr. Roe has a flight to catch so her testimony will likely continue via video tomorrow. There are still two other witnesses the defense is expected to call.