Murder trial opens for officer in 6-year-old autistic boy’s shooting

FILE- In this March 13, 2017, file photo, Derrick Stafford, one of two deputies charged with second-degree murder in the death of Jeremy Mardis, a 6-year-old autistic boy, breaks for lunch at the Avoyelles Parish courthouse during jury selection for his trial in Marksville, La. Stafford was convicted of a lesser charge of manslaughter this week. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

MARKSVILLE, LA (AP) — A trial for a Louisiana law enforcement officer charged with murder in a 6-year-old autistic boy’s shooting opened Monday with jurors hearing vastly different portrayals of the child’s father and his role in the deadly confrontation.

A prosecutor told jurors that Derrick Stafford and another deputy city marshal weren’t in any danger when they fired a barrage of bullets at a car, killing Jeremy Mardis and critically wounding his father in Marksville on the night of Nov. 3, 2015.

But one of Stafford’s lawyers said Jeremy’s father, Christopher Few, led officers on a dangerous, high-speed chase and rammed into a deputy’s vehicle before the shooting. The defense attorney, Jonathan Goins, called Few “the author of that child’s fate.”

“Innocent people do not run from the police. Innocent people stop their vehicles, surrender to the police,” Goins said during the trial’s opening statements.

Prosecutors say none of the father’s actions that night can justify the deadly response. Few didn’t stop for the officers because he feared that he would lose custody of his son if he was arrested, said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Derbes.

“He’s going to tell you it’s the biggest mistake of his life,” Derbes told jurors.

Stafford, 33, and Norris Greenhouse Jr., 25, are charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder over the shooting.

Video from a police officer’s body camera shows the father had his hands raised inside his vehicle while the officers fired their semi-automatic pistols. At least four of their 18 shots ripped into the child’s body while he was strapped into the front seat.

Relatives of the victims wept softly as jurors watched the graphic video from the shooting. Several jurors were also seen wiping tears away.

Defense lawyers argue the officers acted in self-defense. Stafford’s attorneys have claimed Few drove recklessly as he led officers on a 2-mile (3-kilometer) chase and then rammed into Greenhouse’s vehicle as he exited it, before the officers opened fire.

However, a state police detective has testified there isn’t any physical evidence that Few’s car collided with Greenhouse’s vehicle.

Greenhouse faces a separate trial later this year.

Few has never publicly spoken about the shooting that killed his son. Derbes described him as a loving father who took full custody of him after breaking up with the boy’s mother, who lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Defense attorneys have been attacking Few’s credibility for months before the trial. Stafford’s lawyers have said Few had drugs in his system at the time of the shooting and had recently survived a suicide attempt.

Goins accused authorities of conducting a sloppy investigation and rushing to judgment, arresting the two deputies less than a week after the shooting.

“Political pressure rather than the law is what drove this case,” Goins said.

Last week, attorneys asked prospective jurors if race could influence their verdict, or if they’ve heard arguments that race was a factor in the investigation. Both officers are black. Few is white, as was his son.

Investigators traced 14 shell casings to Stafford’s gun and four other casings to Greenhouse’s gun. Three of the four bullet fragments recovered from Jeremy’s body matched Stafford’s weapon; another couldn’t be matched to either deputy.

Ballistics evidence shows none of the 18 shots fired by the two deputies hit the front or back of Few’s car, according to Derbes, citing that as evidence that neither deputy was in danger.

“Cars don’t move sideways,” the prosecutor said.

Stafford, a Marksville police lieutenant, and Greenhouse, a former Marksville police officer, were moonlighting on the night of the shooting in the central Louisiana town. Stafford also worked part-time as a deputy city marshal in nearby Alexandria, but he was fired from that job following his arrest.

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