2nd ex-deputy testifies in own defense during stun-death trial

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 11:10 AM EDT
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SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The trial entered its sixth day Thursday for three former Washington County deputies accused of murdering a man who died after being shocked with stun guns multiple times in 2017.

On Thursday, former deputy Rhett Scott took the stand to testify in his own defense.

He’s charged along with Michael Howell and Henry Copeland in the death of Eurie Martin, who died after the encounter with them while walking on a road in Washington County. Martin’s family says he had a history of mental problems and was walking to visit his family.

Scott worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for about 13 years, starting out working at the jail.

Scott, Howell and Copeland were the only three deputies covering Washington County that night.

Scott was the third deputy to arrive.

On the stand, he said a second call for backup from Howell told him, “We tased him but he’s still fighting.”

He assumed it was a physical fight and sped up to get there.

He also assumed the deputies were trying to arrest Martin but didn’t know why. When he arrived, Martin had his hands on his hips, all three were talking and deputies giving him commands.

He says he shocked Martin in the back.

Martin turned around with a clinched fist like he was going to strike him in one hand and pulled the stun-gun probes out with the other, Scott testified.

Eventually Martin fell to ground and Scott laid partially on top of him, holding down one arm. Martin had the other arm tucked under his body, not allowing the other deputies to cuff that hand.

Under defense cross-examination, Scott answered questions that Martin was not swinging arms and had his hand on his hip when he arrived.

He didn’t ask Martin or the deputies any questions about the situation before shocking him in the back, he said.

Between the first time Scott shocked him (he had already been shocked by Copeland prior), Scott admitted he held down the trigger and shocked Martin at least six or seven times before Martin was flat on the ground.

While attempting to handcuff Martin on the ground, on a video Martin can be heard screaming, “Oh, God,” and “You’re killing me.”

Scott said he didn’t hear that at the time.

Scott said he checked Martin’s pulse once but did not ask him if he was OK.

Then for about seven minutes, the three deputies stood around talking about what to charge Martin with.

By the time a volunteer firefighter arrived, Martin had no pulse.

Later Thursday, prosecutor Kelly Weathers spoke, saying Martin committed no crime.

He looked different, He sounded different., but all he wanted to do was get to Sandersville, Weathers said.

“He had every right to keep walking,” Weathers said, and the defense had no right to arrest him or kill him.

Weathers reminded jurors of the deputies’ charges and broke down why the charges apply to the situation, showing side-by-side video of the dash cam and cellphone video.

The charges are: felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, false imprisonment, aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment.

The defense explained to the jury that every element of a charge has to be proven without a reasonable doubt in order for the charge to stand. The evidence does not support all the elements of the charges, the defense said.

The defense said jurors must look at it from the perspective of the deputies: They were met with resistance while doing their job. The defense said they did not bring the risks, but Martin did.

Earlier in the week

On Wednesday, Howell took the stand.

During Howell’s testimony, the defense played his body cam video. Howell didn’t actually deploy a stun gun during the incident – he wasn’t even equipped with one.

“He had like a I mean a [look] like he could see through you, what I felt like. I mean, an evil look,” Howell said as he described his encounter with Martin.

He says when he got there, he had no intention of arresting Martin. Eventually, he called for backup and Copeland showed up. At one point in a video of the incident, you can hear Howell tell Copeland to quote “Tase his [expletive].”

During cross-examination, prosecutor Kelly Weathers questioned Howell on why he felt he had authority to arrest Martin in the first place, pointing out that Martin was in fact following state law by walking toward incoming traffic on a two lane road.

Earlier Wednesday, Mark Kroll, electrical weapons expert and biomedical professor took the stand.

He spoke about the history of stun guns and electricity. He said electrocution is death by electricity and that Martin’s death was not an electrocution.

He said no one has ever been electrocuted from a stun gun.

The most common risk factors from stun guns are falling (resulting in head trauma), the probe hitting a subject’s eye and fire or spark, he said.

Testifying that risks are rare, he said death after a shock does not mean the stun gun was the cause.

He said previous medical conditions such as heart disease do not impact the intensity of shock or the risk of death.

Also taking the stand Wednesday was Michael Graham, a forensic pathologist.

He testified that a stun gun is not considered a deadly weapon because the number of deaths related to a stun gun is not high enough to conclude that it is deadly force. He says a homicide ruling by a medical examiner does not necessarily mean murder.

Former Deputy Rhett Scott is expected to take the stand Thursday.

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