Trial: Bullets at Katrina shooting match police weapons

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 13, 2011 8:39 PM
Trial: Bullets at Katrina shooting match police weapons

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Bullets taken from victims of a fatal police shooting during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and from the scene match guns used by three of the police officers involved, a ballistics expert said on Wednesday.

Patrick Lane told a New Orleans jury that his analysis showed with "reasonable scientific certainty" that at least one of the bullets removed from the body of 17-year-old James Brissette matched the rifle fired by Sergeant Kenneth Bowen.

Other bullets or shell casings taken from the scene matched guns fired by officers Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso, the Louisiana State Police ballistics specialist said.

Bowen, Faulcon and Villavaso are on trial in federal court alongside Sergeant Robert Gisevius over the fatal shootings of Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Four other people were seriously wounded in the incident.

A fifth officer, Sergeant Arthur Kaufman, is charged with covering up the crimes through false reports, a planted gun and made-up witnesses.

The civilians had been walking on the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans as a dozen officers responded to an alert that police were under fire in that area. When the police arrived, they began firing without warning, witnesses said.

One group of civilians took cover in a walkway behind a concrete barrier while others ran to the opposite end of the bridge.

A number of witnesses have said that police, including homicide investigator Kaufman, collected no evidence from the scene. Many, including police officers, have also testified that none of the civilians had weapons.

Lane testified that shell casings found later at the bridge matched two AK-47 rifles, a Glock .40-caliber handgun and a shotgun used by officers that day.

In later testimony, the pathologist who performed an autopsy on Brissette said several bullets had entered and exited his body, then reentered at another point. Dr. Dana Troxclair said some wounds could have come from bullets ricocheting off a hard surface, such as concrete.

She said that given the angle of the bullets, the gun would have had to be low to the ground when fired.

In testimony last week, officer Michael Hunter, who has pleaded guilty to a role in the shooting, said Bowen at one point leaned over the concrete barrier and held his gun low while spraying five civilians with bullets.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)