BY MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Jurors are set to hear attorneys’ opening statements Monday for the trial of a Louisiana law enforcement officer charged with murder in the shooting death of a 6-year-old autistic boy.
Derrick Stafford, 33, is one of two deputy city marshals charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder over the November 2015 shooting that killed Jeremy Mardis and critically wounded his father, Christopher Few, after a car chase in Marksville.
Video from a police officer’s body camera shows the father had his hands raised inside his vehicle while Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr. 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.
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.
But prosecutors argue the video proves Stafford and Greenhouse weren’t in any danger and fired at the car from a safe distance. A state police detective has testified there isn’t any physical evidence Few’s car collided with Greenhouse’s vehicle.
Greenhouse, 25, faces a separate trial later this year.
It took a week to select 12 jurors and two alternates for Stafford’s trial. State District Judge William Bennett, prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned dozens of prospective jurors about their knowledge of the high-profile case.
The attorneys also asked 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.
Stafford and Greenhouse were arrested less than a week after the shooting. Their lawyers have accused authorities of rushing to judgment. One of Stafford’s attorneys has questioned whether investigators would have acted more deliberately if the officers had been white.
The 14-minute video from the body camera only captures the tail end of the chase and lacks audio for the first 27 seconds. The deputies began shooting before the audio begins.
The footage also captures the stomach-churning aftermath. It shows Marksville Police Sgt. Kenneth Parnell III — the officer wearing the body camera — check for a pulse on the boy more than seven minutes after the gunfire stops.
A federal lawsuit filed by the child’s relatives claims the officers did nothing to stop the boy’s bleeding or alleviate his suffering.
Parnell and a third deputy city marshal also had joined the chase. Prosecutors say neither of them fired their weapons, but Stafford’s attorneys recently claimed a police diagram of the crime scene suggests bullets were fired from where Parnell stood.
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.
Few, who is expected to testify at trial, has never publicly spoken about the shooting that killed his son. But defense attorneys already have attacked his credibility. Stafford’s lawyers have said Few had drugs in his system at the time of the shooting and had recently survived a suicide attempt.
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.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is prosecuting the case. The district attorney in Avoyelles Parish recused himself from the case because one of his top lieutenants is Greenhouse’s father.
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