MARKSVILLE — Prosecutors have wrapped up their case against a former Marksville deputy marshal accused of murder in a shooting at the end of a pursuit in November 2015 that left a 6-year-old child dead, capping a long day of technical testimony from experts with chilling details from the child's autopsy.
Following three days packed with nearly 30 prosecution witnesses, attorneys for Derrick Stafford will begin presenting their case to the jury Thursday morning. Speaking outside the Avoyelles Parish courthouse late Wednesday afternoon, defense attorney Christopher LaCour wouldn't reveal to reporters whether the 33-year-old former Marksville Police Department lieutenant would take the stand.
Over the course of eight hours Wednesday several expert witnesses from Louisiana State Police pored over crime scene diagrams, displayed spent cartridge casings, discussed paint chips from the hood of one deputy's car, and passed a bullet recovered from 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis' body to the jurors.
Dr. Christopher Tape, a Broussard forensic pathologist who conducted Jeremy's autopsy, said the child was shot at least four times in the hail of gunfire that tore through the small Kia Sportage the boy's father, Christopher Few, was driving that night. A fifth gunshot wound on the boy's arm may have been caused by one of the bullets that passed through him elsewhere.
Tape stood and pointed out on his own body where each round tore into Jeremy — pointing to his left eyebrow, the left side of his neck, the right side of his chest, left leg and left elbow — before showing jurors graphic photos of the wounds on the boy's lifeless body.
MARKSVILLE — Jurors sat glued to a big-screen TV in a cramped upstairs courtroom, listening …
Four bullets or bullet fragments were pulled from the young child's body during the autopsy, a State Police Crime Lab firearms examiner, Michelle Cazes, told the courtroom. Three of those matched Stafford's .40-caliber Glock pistol, while fragments from the fourth couldn't be matched to any gun.
Cazes also said 18 casings recovered from the scene matched the .40 caliber Glocks carried by both Stafford and then fellow deputy marshal Norris Greenhouse Jr. Fourteen of the casings matched Stafford's gun, while four were determined to have come from Greenhouse's weapon.
Outside the courthouse, LaCour, one of defense attorneys, said most of the experts merely established what everyone already knows: that his client, as well as Greenhouse, opened fire that night.
Their defense for Stafford hinges on showing that Few, the boy's father, posed an imminent threat to the officers, who fired their weapons in self-defense. Stafford's attorneys have sought to establish that Few led the deputies on a reckless and dangerous chase, rammed Greenhouse's Crown Victoria patrol car, and had thrown the vehicle into reverse before Stafford and Greenhouse fired their weapons.
It remains unclear what triggered the two-mile pursuit, which began when Greenhouse — who was patrolling alone — flipped on the lights of his patrol car around 9:24 p.m. Few testified Tuesday that he worried he might've drank too much earlier that night to legally drive and was trying to get his son to a caretaker before pulling over in case he was arrested.
Few told the jury Tuesday he drove safely during the pursuit, and a State Police detective, Ronald Beeson, testified he had calculated the average speed of the chase at 30 mph. Surveillance video from the parish courthouse shows Few — with Greenhouse in close pursuit — coming to a halt at a stop sign before turning and continuing the chase.
Stafford's lawyers have maintained Few ran others off the road and pointed to a statement from Stafford's partner, Jason Brouillette, that Few was using his Kia "as a weapon" at the time of the shooting. Brouillette, also a deputy marshal, wasn't arrested or charged in the shooting.
Sgt. Howard Johnson, who diagrammed and recreated the crime scene, confirmed Wednesday that Few's Kia Sportage did in fact collide with Greenhouse's patrol car at some point during the pursuit and ensuing confrontation. But Johnson testified it was impossible to say whether Greenhouse — who was driving the lead pursuit vehicle — rear-ended Few's Kia or whether, as defense attorneys contend, Few backed his vehicle into Greenhouse's car.
The driver in the fatal incident, 26-year-old Christopher Few, testified for over an hour Tuesday afternoon, describing the events of Nov. 3, 2015, and recounting the hail of gunfire that wounded him and killed his 6-year-old son, Jeremy Mardis.
Johnson also testified that Few, who can be seen in body camera footage captured by a Marksville policeman reversing his vehicle during the shooting, was traveling about 8 mph. At that speed, Johnson said, the officers could've easily gotten out of Few's way at a brisk walk or light jog.
LaCour, the defense attorney, argued that Johnson's tests and recreations were inaccurate and unscientific. Johnson said he used his State Police Chevrolet Tahoe — not another Kia Sportage — to calculate those figures, and timed himself moving around the crime scene. Johnson contended those calculations would still provide a suitably accurate basis for evaluating the incident.
The final witness for the state in Stafford's murder trial was Jeremy's maternal grandmother, Cathy Mardis, who described Few as a devoted father and an "easy-going, laid back" guy. Mardis said Few spent nearly every weekend off work driving more than four hours to visit his son in Beaumont, Mississippi, some 25 miles southeast of Hattiesburg, before bringing the boy to live with him outside Marksville in April 2015.
During Cathy Mardis' testimony, prosecutors played surveillance footage from inside a discount tobacco shop where Few's mother, Samantha Few, works in Marksville. Few testified he'd visited the store the afternoon of the shooting to borrow a car after the friend he'd been living with had told him to move out.
The surveillance videos shows Jeremy and Chris walking into the store around 3 p.m. that Tuesday afternoon, six hours before the shooting. Holding hands, father and son chat with the boy's grandmother and then wander the aisles.
For most of the video, Jeremy tails behind his father. He has on the same light-blue shirt which in the autopsy photos show it pulled up and cut away to show his fatal wounds.