James Hill said he never fired the 9 mm gun he was carrying.
He made the statement even though a surgeon who operated on Pittsburgh police Officer Morgan Jenkins said he recovered a 9 mm bullet from near the man’s spinal cord following the early morning gunfight in Homewood on April 11, 2013.
Instead, Hill told a jury on Friday that Officer Jenkins must have been shot by his own partner, Officer Michelle Auge, even though she carries a .40-caliber Glock as a duty weapon.
Someone, somewhere, must have switched out the bullets to set him up, he said.
Deputy district attorney Ilan Zur, who had trouble containing his disdain for the defendant’s story throughout his cross-examination, told the jurors in closing that they should discount, entirely, what Hill said because “it was just garbage.”
“Officer Jenkins couldn’t be more truthful,” Mr. Zur said during his argument. “James Hill, the complete opposite, who told you an incredible, fantastic story that makes absolutely no sense.”
Hill was on trial this week, charged with shooting Officer Jenkins, who was paralyzed in the incident on Apple Avenue in Homewood. He faces counts including attempted homicide, assault of a law enforcement officer, carrying a firearm without a license and related charges.
The jury will return to deliberate on Monday.
Hill testified for about an hour on Friday morning, repeatedly saying he never fired his gun.
“You're saying somebody switched the bullets?” Mr. Zur asked.
“Yes,” Hill answered.
“And you're saying Officer Auge shot Officer Jenkins?” Mr. Zur continued.
According to a video recording of the incident, officers Jenkins and Auge were on patrol that night, when they tried to pull Hill over for a traffic violation.
He fled, and they chased him, reaching speeds of more than 60 mph, before he crashed.
The officers had their guns drawn as they approached Hill’s car and told him to stay inside, but he got out, and both officers re-holstered their guns during a tussle.
Although Officer Auge tried to use a Taser to subdue Hill, it was ineffective, and he broke free. Officer Jenkins chased him.
Hill admitted during his testimony that he fled from the police because he knew if he was taken into custody he would be sent to prison. There was a warrant out for his arrest for walking away from a halfway house where he was completing a three- to six-year sentence he was previously serving.
“You are desperate again, like you were that night, because you know at the end of this proceeding, you’re going to be found guilty,” Mr. Zur said.
“I’m innocent,” Hill replied. “I did not fire or try to hurt anybody.
“I never fired my gun.”
“You realize, [that’s] ridiculous, right?” Mr. Zur asked.
“No, I don't,” Hill said.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Robert Foreman said that because an officer was shot and seriously injured, investigators took this case more seriously than others.
“They’ll do whatever it takes to stand up for one another,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of embellishment that’s obvious in this case.”
As an example, Mr. Foreman cited Officer Auge’s testimony that Hill punched her in the head.
“I don’t see any punches thrown [in the video],” Mr. Foreman said. “It’s not obvious; it’s not apparent. It’s not visible.”
He repeated his client’s testimony that Hill never fired his weapon, although investigators claimed they found two spent casings from it at the scene.
“How did these casings get there?” Mr. Foreman asked. “Oh, I could speculate.”
He continued: “How do we know what bullet was examined ... at the crime lab? The answer is, we can’t be sure.
“Did they have an incentive to monkey around with the evidence? Oh, yes.”
But Mr. Zur dismissed the entire argument.
“If you’re Mr. Hill, you are desperate. You have to come up with something the jury potentially could bite on,” the prosecutor said.
“He didn’t want to go back to jail. He was going to do everything he could.”
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter@PaulaReedWard. First Published August 15, 2014 1:28 PM