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Expert disputes claim of struggle in shooting

Published Oct. 6, 2005

The gun gleamed a dull silver in the dim lighting of the courtroom. FBI Agent Roger Crum held it up for the jury to see, pointed it at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. The click echoed across the room.

Belleair police officer Jeffery Tackett carried the .45-caliber Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol to protect himself and others. Instead, it took his life on June 13, and prosecutors say Lorenzo Jenkins pulled the trigger.

Crum, a firearms expert, testified Wednesday that when he test-fired the murder weapon at cloth similar to Tackett's uniform, he had to hold the muzzle more than 5 feet away to avoid leaving any gunpowder residue, smoke particles or vaporized lead.

Because Crum found no such residue around the bullet hole on the leg of Tackett's uniform pants, prosecutors have suggested Tackett was shot from more than 5 feet away.

Jenkins' defense lawyers contend the gun fired accidentally while the two men were struggling hand-to-hand.

"You would expect to find some gunshot residue, had the gun been fired in close proximity?" Assistant State Attorney Robert Lewis asked.

Yes, Crum said.

But Jenkins' lead attorney, Michael Schwartzberg, attacked the contention that the shot that killed Tackett was not fired close to his leg. The gunshot residue could have been knocked off by detectives handling the evidence, or rubbed off in transit when the pants were sent to the FBI lab in Washington, D.C., he suggested.

Another possible explanation, he said, was that someone wiped the particles away _ someone named Jeffery Tackett.

"If someone were to immediately grab that area with their left hand in order to attempt to stem the flow of blood, and removed that hand, wiping the blood across that area, it could take away the gunshot particle residue, couldn't it?" Schwartzberg asked.

"It's possible," Crum said. "It could remove some of the particles."

Schwartzberg pointed out that Tackett's left hand was bloody. Could that, he asked, point the way to explaining why there were no particles?

"That fact wouldn't suggest anything to me," Crum said.

Schwartzberg also brought up the fact that Tackett quickly bled to death from a gunshot wound that severed an artery in his leg. Because Tackett's clothes were soaked in blood, he said, wouldn't the blood cover up signs of such residue?

Crum said the dark blue color of the material was a greater hindrance than the blood.

Pressed by Schwartzberg, Crum told the jury, "I cannot determine the muzzle to target distance." He could only try to approximate it, using his tests, he said.

Wednesday's testimony marked Crum's second appearance as a witness against Jenkins, 32. When Jenkins was tried last month, Crum's testimony, and the evidence of his test firings, prompted Schwartzberg to demand a mistrial. At the time, the lawyer said prosecutors had failed to notify them about Crum's tests, a violation of the way Florida trials are supposed to be conducted.

Although prosecutors contended they had given the defense sufficient notice, Circuit Judge Douglas Baird granted the mistrial, saying he feared having any conviction overturned on appeal if he allowed the trial to continue.

So this week, they picked a new jury and started over again. This time there was no motion for a mistrial. But Schwartzberg has asked Baird to allow the jury to tour the scene of Tackett's death, a Belleair condominium where the officer caught Jenkins trying to break the glass in a door. Baird has not yet ruled on the request.

Prosecutors contend Jenkins wrestled Tackett's gun away, shot him when he was defenseless, and then fled. They are seeking the death penalty. Schwartzberg contends the shooting was an accident, and his client is guilty of only third-degree murder, which would carry a probable sentence of 30 years.

Another FBI expert, Mike Malone, testified Wednesday that had the men struggled hand-to-hand, there should have been some transfer of hairs or clothing fibers between the two men.

"And you found no sign of a transfer?" Lewis asked.

"Absolutely none," Malone said.

When Schwartzberg questioned Malone, he noted that Tackett did get close enough to Jenkins to put a handcuff on one wrist. "If a person is in close enough proximity to handcuff someone, then would you have some transfer?"

Possibly, Malone said _ it would depend on how close they got to each other.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. in the Clearwater courthouse.

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