Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- The prosecution presented their case Monday in the first day of the Danziger police shooting trial after attorneys gave their opening statements. The jury heard chilling details about the shooting from a woman who was severely wounded by police on the bridge.
There was emotional testimony from the start. The prosecution’s first witness, Susan Bartholomew, lost an arm in the shooting on the Danziger Bridge and close family friend 17-year-old James Brissette.
Bartholomew told the jury she and her family members were crossing the bridge in the hopes of getting food and supplies at a grocery store on the other side of the canal.
“The police just kept shooting and I just kept feeling myself being hit,” Bartholomew said. “I prayed. I just called on the Lord. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Earlier in opening statements, attorneys for the government and defense laid out their version of the facts.
“Shoot first and ask questions later," lead prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein told the jury. "This is how this whole thing got started. The officers cut loose with shotguns and assault rifles without even a token effort to identify themselves as police.”
Former Officer Anthony Villavaso’s defense attorney Tim Meche countered that the officers were responding to a radio call where they believed there were shots fired and two officers down.
“Officers didn’t have a lot of time to assess the situation,” Meche said. “This was not a video game or a slow motion movie. You take too much time to assess the situation and you get your head blown off.”
Defense attorneys asked the jury to judge the actions of the officers in the context of the dark days after Hurricane Katrina.
“These five guys have one thing in common: They stayed, they did the best they could without adequate food, leadership, supplies and support,” said Paul Fleming, former Officer Robert Faulcon’s attorney.
Prosecutors claim the evidence will show that the Danziger shooting was unjustified and that cover-up to included a planted gun, phony witnesses and fake police reports.
From what we heard today in the opening statements, this is going to be a long trial with a lot of twists and turns.
Defense attorneys are also prepared to tee-off on the five former police officers who already pleaded guilty in this case and will take the stand as government witnesses.