MARKSVILLE — Jurors sat glued to a big-screen TV in a cramped upstairs courtroom, listening intently over the din of the air conditioner as gunshots cracked on the body camera footage and a local policeman checked the faint pulse of a mortally wounded 6-year-old boy still strapped into the front seat.
At least two jurors cried as prosecutors showed the graphic, roughly 18-minute video of the grim aftermath of the Nov. 3, 2015, shooting by two Marksville deputy marshals — Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr. — that left young Jeremy Mardis, an autistic first-grader, dead and that critically wounded his father, Christopher Few.
Even before the trial against Stafford began Monday morning, most of those in the courtroom had already seen the disturbing footage captured on the body camera of a Marksville policeman, showing the tail end of a police chase and the two deputy marshals opening fire on the small Kia SUV that Few was driving.
MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — After a police body camera captured two deputy city marshals firing o…
Jeremy's grandmothers comforted each other and wept quietly in the courtroom gallery's first bench, just behind the prosecutors. Opposite them, about a dozen of Stafford's relatives sat stoically behind the 33-year-old former officer, now charged with counts of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder, and, in the words of his defense attorney, "fighting for his life."
But just what happened in the moments surrounding the video — and the lens through which those tragic moments should be viewed — will likely determine the fate of Stafford, the first of the two indicted former deputy marshals to stand trial in the shooting.
In opening statements of Stafford's trial, the prosecution and defense laid out starkly different versions of the fatal ending of a brief car chase.
State prosecutors said Stafford and Greenhouse stood at least 15 feet to the side of Few's small SUV when the officers fired a barrage of bullets: at least 14 rounds by Stafford and at least four rounds by Greenhouse, according to State Police investigators.
Matthew Derbes, one of the prosecutors with the Louisiana Attorney General's office, said Few posed no threat and raised his hands through the window of his mother's Kia in an attempt to surrender when Stafford and Greenhouse opened fire.
But defense attorney Jonathan Goins laid the blame for the child's death on Few, saying he led officers on a reckless chase through the city — committing, by the defense's count, at least 15 traffic violations — and rammed a deputy's vehicle.
"Innocent people do not run from the police," Goins said.
The defense attorney said the crux of the case will rest on a statement given by a third deputy marshal, Jason Brouillette, who Goins said drew his weapon and told authorities days after the shooting he would've opened fire as well but didn't know where the other officers stood.
Goins said none of the officers knew the child was in the vehicle and contended that at least one officer would've been killed had they not fired to stop Few. Goins also said Few, who was airlifted to Rapides Medical Center in Alexandria that night, had alcohol, methamphetamine and Xanax in his system and said a former friend told authorities Few tried to commit suicide weeks before the fatal incident.
"Stripped of all emotion," Goins said, the evidence in the case will show that Few was "the author of that child's fate."
Derbes, the prosecutor, suggested the officers may have fabricated their account of Few trying to ram their patrol cars, noting that all the gunshots came from the driver's side of Few's vehicle — not from behind or in front — and that body cameras worn by other officers and radio traffic from that night didn't capture any such claims.
"What you're not going to hear … is anything about Chris Few using that Kia as a deadly weapon," Derbes said, adding that a State Police detective saw the deputy marshals huddling at the scene that night. "You won't hear it because it didn't happen."
Stafford and Greenhouse were arrested by the Louisiana State Police days after the Nov. 3 shooting. The next month the two were indicted on a count each of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. But the cases against the two officers were separated, with Greenhouse currently scheduled to stand trial in June.
It took five days to seat the jury at the district courthouse in Marksville. The case garnered rare national attention for Avoyelles Parish and an initial pool of hundreds of jurors was called last week.
MARKSVILLE (AP) — The head of the Louisiana State Police called it the most disturbing thing…
Kenneth Parnell, the officer who captured the incident on his body camera, testified he never fired his gun during the incident because "I wasn't in fear of my life."
Parnell, a lieutenant with the Marksville Police Department who said he knew both Stafford and Greenhouse well, testified he saw Few's small SUV backing up toward him just before the gunfire began but didn't perceive a threat and never saw him ram or collide with either of the Crown Victoria patrol cars the deputy marshals were driving.
Prosecutors also played two other lengthy body camera videos captured by deputies with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office. The footage from those cameras didn't capture the shooting, but do provide another angle on the gruesome aftermath and the confusion as authorities work to piece together what happened.
One deputy, Lt. John McMonigle, can be heard talking by phone with others at the Sheriff's Office and repeatedly saying that the three deputy marshals — Greenhouse, Stafford and Brouillette — wouldn't answer questions or give an account of what happened.
"They're buttoning up," McMonigle says on the video. "They ain't telling us s***."
But McMonigle does say Brouillette told him they began pursuing Few because of an outstanding warrant, an apparently erroneous claim. McMonigle said they later determined Few had no outstanding warrants at the time. Parnell testified he was told the pursuit began over a traffic violation but none of the officers ever explained just what prompted Greenhouse to try to pull Few over. A bartender at TJ's Lounge, a Marksville watering hole where Few had been hanging out with his then-girlfriend just before the chase, testified Few didn't seem drunk or high on drugs.
The 12-person jury and two alternates also heard testimony from witnesses about three unrelated incidents involving Stafford that prosecutors contend demonstrate a "pattern of excessive force" by the lawman.
In one of the incidents, Stafford, who worked full time as a lieutenant for the Marksville Police Department in addition to his part-time work for the Ward 2 Marshal's Office, had allegedly fired a stun gun at Aleathia Barbin as she sat handcuffed in the back of a police car. Barbin testified police had arrived at her home on Jan. 3, 2011, after a tow truck driver tried to repossess her car.
Another Marksville resident, Stephen McIntosh, testified Stafford sprayed a chemical irritant in his face after other officers had already tackled, handcuffed and subdued him with a stun gun at the town's Fourth of July festival several years ago. McIntosh, a self-employed auto detailer, said he was arrested when he stooped to pick up his keys after police had ordered a crowd to clear the area around a fight.
Sammy Carmouche and his wife, Theresa, both testified Stafford also used his Taser unnecessarily as police officers tried to arrest Carmouche outside his trailer for allegedly shooting a dog. Carmouche testified he'd stopped resisting and was handcuffed when a shock from Stafford's Taser sent him tumbling flat onto his face.
The district attorney never pursued any criminal charges relating to the alleged dog shooting, which the Carmouches said they weren't responsible for. But Sammy Carmouche, like McIntosh and Barbin, were all convicted of resisting arrest and disturbing the peace.
Prosecutors also played recordings of radio traffic among the officers — including Greenhouse and Stafford — as they began pursuing Few just after 9 p.m on Nov. 3, 2015. At 9:28 p.m., Parnell, the Marksville policeman, can be heard radioing "shots fired!" and then relaying that injuries are "severe to critical," though details of who'd been shot aren't fully explained to dispatchers.
The recordings capture the confusion as officers from other agencies — the Marksville Police Department, the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office and, later, Louisiana State Police — arrived at the scene just outside the gates of the Marksville Historic Site and begin piecing together what happened.
At 11:50 p.m., a State Police investigator speaks with Dr. L.J. Mayeux, the Avoyelles Parish coroner, who'd been roused from his sleep. As the investigator explains the situation clearly for the first time on the recordings — that Few had been airlifted to Rapides Parish and that young Jeremy Mardis was dead — the coroner gasps.
"A 6-year-old shot to death?" Mayeux says. "Jesus Christ almighty."