Abbott Murder Trial: Warning Shot, The Worst Thing
Firing A Warning Shot At Wallace “Simply The Worst Thing I Could Imagine”, Prosecution Expert Claims
Reporter: Richard Scott
The jury has been hearing more evidence from prosecution experts on the sixth day of the Keith Abbott murder trial yesterday. Following evidence given Monday, the testimony from the prosecution’s expert witnesses has raised more questions on the accuracy of police testimony of the shooting.
Senior Constable Abbott stands accused of the murder of 23 year old Steven Wallace, whom he shot in Waitara, Taranaki in April 2000. Abbott pleads not guilty to the charges against him, claiming that he acted in self-defence.
Justice Chambers discharged one member of the jury of 8 men and 4 women early this afternoon. The reasons for the judge’s decision cannot be reported. However, Justice Chambers told the jury in open court that the reasons did not reflect badly on the juror, the prosecution or the defence, and should not be the subject of speculation by the remaining 11 jurors who will now reach a verdict on Abbott’s guilt or innocence.
This morning, the jury heard from David Painter, an expert in police dog handling.
Painter, who gave his evidence by video link from the United Kingdom, was the Chief Dog Handler for the New Zealand Police for 7 years until his retirement. Examined by John Rowan QC for the prosecution, Painter gave his opinion that a police dog and handler, supported by 3 police personnel on the scene, should have been able to apprehend a single offender armed with a baseball bat.
Although there was some risk that the dog could be injured or even killed, Painter suggested that this was a preferable alternative to human death or injury. Patrick Mooney, cross-examining Painter for the defence, extracted a grudging concession from Painter that there was no guarantee that an armed offender could be disarmed. However, Painter stuck by his opinion that he would have expected them to be successful.
Much of the expert evidence today focussed on the sequence and timing of the shots fired by Abbott at Wallace, and on the forensic evidence found at the scene.
Peter Wilson, an ESR scientist who began giving his evidence Monday, restated his view that Wallace was shot four times: twice in the upper arms, once in the sternum and lastly once in the back.
The prosecution alleges that the shot to the sternum, which bisected Wallace’s liver, was the fatal wound. The defence does not dispute this, but will suggest in its own expert evidence that the sternum shot was the first shot fired.
The defence, in cross-examination by Susan Hughes, also took steps to establish that Abbott had not moved when shooting Wallace. Given the impact of the bullets on Wallace’s body and the energy that would thereby be transferred, the prosecution experts conceded that the likeliest scenario was Wallace spinning round before the shot to his back
Attention also focussed on forensic evidence found at the scene, with two of the prosecution experts today (Wilson and Maubach) expressing their view that Abbott’s position, as marked by Dombroski, was not consistent with the position of cartridge shells at the scene.
The suspicion raised is that either Abbott’s position was marked incorrectly, or that the cartridge cases were moved in some way. As Maubach observed, given the cartridge ejection pattern of a Glock pistol, Abbott must have shot Wallace with his pistol upside down for the cartridges to be ejected to his left.
In questions put to Wilson, Justice Chambers also probed another evidential anomaly: that one bullet was found behind the position from which Abbott is alleged to have shot Wallace. Peter Wilson said that he had agonised over this issue, and could only conclude that the bullet had been picked up, examined and then discarded, or had been trapped inadvertently in the sole of a shoe and carried to this position.
The Court then heard from Dr. Kenneth Thomson, an experienced consultant forensic pathologist from Wellington. Thomson elaborated on points made by Wilson in his evidence about the sequence of shots, and the position of the wounds on Wallace’s body.
During prosecution questioning by John Rowan QC, Thomson stated his view that the logical sequence of shots followed that presented by Wilson. In particular, Thomson asserted that the position of the arms when the first two shots were fired would block a shot into the sternum.
The impact of the two bullets on Wallace’s arms, which shattered the bones in his forearm, would have caused the arms to drop leaving a clear path for the fatal wound. In defence cross examination by Susan Hughes, Thomson admitted that he could not completely reject the sequence of shots presented by the defence, but maintained that he preferred his interpretation as the more logical.
Last in the witness box today was Bernard Maubach, the prosecution expert on police operational procedure, instruction and policy. Maubach is a retired senior German police officer who emigrated to New Zealand in 1978, and who headed various counter terrorism units in Germany. He was involved in police operations against the Black September movement (who shot dead Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics), the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang, and the raid on Entebbe Airport near Kampala, Uganda during Idi Amin’s despotic regime.
Maubach gave the Court his opinion that a confrontation with an unpredictable and aggressive offender armed with a baseball bat was not unusual. He asserted that Abbott and the other police officers at the scene could and should have used other options to defuse the situation.
He robustly stated his opinion that confronting an unpredictable offender with a firearm would just inflame the situation and was not necessary. A more patient and measured approach was required, particularly as Wallace was not armed with a firearm and was only damaging property. In his view, firing a warning shot was, “simply the worst thing I could imagine”, and was not part of police policy and training in the use of firearms.
The prosecution expert evidence is expected to conclude tomorrow, and the defence could open its case as early as tomorrow afternoon.
The case is continuing.