A Little Rock police officer who fatally shot a 15-year-old suspect made a "split second" decision to open fire when he realized the car the teen was driving was "fixing to run over him," a defense attorney said Wednesday during opening statements in the trial of Josh Hastings.
Hastings was fired from the force and charged with manslaughter after the Aug. 12 shooting at a Little Rock apartment complex that killed Bobby Moore III. Hastings fired three shots, including two that hit Moore: One that hit his finger as he gripped the steering wheel and then went into his chest and a second that hit him in the head and killed him instantly, prosecutors said.
Hastings was responding to a report Moore and two others were breaking into vehicles on the lot.
Prosecutors contend the car was stopped or possibly even going backward when Hastings opened fire.
Bill James, defense attorney for Hastings, told the jury that no evidence shows the car was in reverse and that Hastings will testify the car was coming at him at about 15 mph.
"That's not real fast unless it's coming straight at you," James said, noting that speed means the vehicle would be moving 22 feet a second.
James said one of the two teenage passengers even initially said the vehicle was moving forward, though investigators got "tunnel vision" about what happened and left that out of a report.
He also asked the jurors to consider the credibility of the teen passengers. They were on juvenile probation and both sides acknowledge the group was breaking into cars.
"This is a case about choices," James said. "Four people were involved. Three people were breaking the law, and one of them was doing his job."
Chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson called Hastings' actions "straight-up reckless behavior." He said the teen passengers would testify during the trial that the car was not going forward and that an autopsy revealed Moore's bullet wounds were consistent with someone turned to the side looking backward.
"Officer Hastings was there for all the right reasons," Johnson said. "They needed to be arrested, no question. The problem is in his eagerness to put them under arrest ... he fired three shots into a car occupied by three boys."
Testimony began immediately after opening statements with questioning of two Little Rock officers who responded to the scene and a crime scene technician who diagrammed the crime scene and took photos of evidence.
Among the images presented to the jury were a map of the apartment complex showing where the shots were fired and photos of the inside of Moore's car, including some that showed him slumped over dead inside. One photo showed the floorboard on the driver side, where one of Moore's flip flops was off his foot and on the brake. His foot was near the gas pedal, but not on it.
3:30 p.m. Update:
Later in the day, jurors heard the testimony of one of the youths in the car when Moore was killed, with the biggest point of emphasis being on some of the testimony he gave detectives during the investigation.
Jeremiah Johnson, 14, took the stand for almost 90 minutes Wednesday afternoon, giving his account of the incident.
Johnson stated that he, Bobby Moore III and Keontay Walker, 17, had been riding around in their Honda Civic since 8 p.m. the previous night when they arrived at the Shadow Lake Apartment Complex around 5 a.m.
When asked what they were doing there, Johnson, who was sitting in the back seat when Moore was shot, said they were "checking cars," meaning they were checking to see if cars were unlocked and were able to be opened so the trio could steal things out of them. Johnson said they broke into about 15 cars that morning.
The ordeal began when Johnson said he saw a light in the distance, later identifying it as Hastings a short time later.
The testimony became heated when chief prosecuting attorney John Johnson and defense attorney Bill James asked Jeremiah Johnson to give his account of what direction the car was moving when Hasting opened fire. In his testimony to detectives following the incident, Johnson said they "started driving" when Hastings was identified as a police officer. In court Wednesday, Johnson told the jury they were "cruising" out of the lot and were coming to a stop when Hastings opened fire.
James contended Jeremiah Johnson's testimony at the end of his time on stand, asking "what do you mean, when you talk to a person and tell them the car was moving forward?" Johnson responded by saying "that the car is moving forward."
John Johnson followed with his own question to Jeremiah, asking "can I be moving toward you and be stopping at the same time?" Jeremiah responded "yes."
Johnson was excused from the stand immediately following the exchange.
5 p.m. Update:
After a brief recess, Keontay Walker, the youth who was sitting in the front passenger seat at the time of the incident, took the stand.
While Walker's story was consistent with that heard from Jeremiah Johnson, he said that during the ordeal, he ducked under the glove compartment of the Honda prior to Hastings opening fire.
Walker said he felt the car going backward while he was crouched in his seat. He added that he felt the car "go in reverse" before he heard the shots.
"Then I heard Bobby take a deep breath," Walker said.
The car then rolled backward, eventually stopping when it hit a Camaro, Walker said. He and Johnson then fled the scene.
Walker said the three started their night "looking for a party" before making their way to the Shadow Lakes Apartment Complex. Despite Johnson's claim that the group broke into 15 cars, Walker said they only broke into three that morning.
5:40 p.m. UPDATE
Testimony from Keontay Walker continued last Wednesday afternoon, with more debate centering around the speed at which the youths were driving went exiting the complex/
Defense attorney Bill James pointed to the statement Walker gave to detectives, saying the trio was "cruising", although Walker maintained that the the car they were traveling was going about 15 miles per hour.
Two diagrams were also submitted to the court, both featuring spots where Walker had place Hastings in front of the car at the time of the shooting. James argued that the placement of Hastings — which Walker had marked with an x on both diagrams — didn't match up.
The day concluded with a question from chief prosecuting attorney John Johnson stating to Walker that "Mr. James implied you were so mad [at Hastings] that you would do anything to get him fired. Would you?"
"No sir," Walker said.
Court recessed for the day and the trial will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday morning.