Mental issues can mimic drug use, witness says in stun-death trial

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 12:36 PM EDT
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SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The defense started presenting witnesses on Tuesday, the fourth day of the murder trial for three former Washington County deputies.

Then-Deputies Rhett Scott, Michael Howell and Henry Copeland responded to a “suspicious person call,” which led to an interaction leaving Eurie Martin dead on the scene of the 2017 incident after he was shocked multiple times.

Martin’s family said he had a history of mental heath issues and was only walking to visit his family.

On Tuesday, Dr. Gary Vilke, a mental health and stun-use expert, took the stand.

Vilke said the symptoms of schizophrenia often closely resemble intoxication or being under the influence of drugs. He said schizophrenic patients having an episode can be strong. He went on to say the stun gun itself is not a deadly weapon. The elements all together, including Martin’s high body heat and health issues, added stress to the situation.

So basically the shock alone was not likely to cause his death.

The prosecution argued back, pointing out that Vilke is receiving more than $15,000 for his appearance in court.

And in most of the stun gun studies he’s been a part of, the volunteers are law enforcement officers, not suffering from mental health issues, and they are only shocked for five seconds from a single stun gun.

He also said a person with mental health issues who does not have his/her proper medication could be confused or scared.

The second defense witness was Jasmine Williams, a resident of Deepstep Road who witnessed the incident but did not hear anything.

She said in court she does not remember anything, so she was played a recording of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation interview from that day.

In the interview, she said Martin was resisting arrest.

She called the sheriff after the incident to tell him “his men acted professionally” and “they were just trying to talk to him the whole time.”

She went on to say Martin was not fighting deputies, he just wouldn’t let them put him in handcuffs. Also, she said he appeared to be on drugs or suffering from some type of mental issue.

Tuesday’s court proceedings came after the state presented several expert witnesses on Monday, including GBI stun gun instructor Ryan Carmichael.

“What it’s telling you is just what the weapon did. When the trigger was pulled and how long it cycled for when the trigger was pulled,” said Carmichael.

Carmichael analyzed data pulled from the stun guns of Scott and Copeland. He explained that after five seconds, a stun gun recycles, basically cutting itself off; however, if a deputy holds down the trigger, it keeps releasing volts. Data shows Scott and Copeland’s stun guns cycled 15 different times within about four minutes. The longest length of voltage was 19 seconds from Scott and 13 from Copeland.

The state also brought a use-of-force expert who says de-escalation by officers would have helped this situation.

“I don’t think there was a crime, enough to stop him for reasonable suspicion,” said the expert, John Burden.

“Was Eurie Martin constitutionally entitled to keep walking in your opinion?” said Weathers.

“Yes,” said Burden.

The defense attorneys are expected to begin presenting their witnesses by the middle of this week. The trial is expected to wrap up by Friday.

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