Katrina shooting victim hit by bullets from three guns: expert

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 14, 2011 7:28 PM
Katrina shooting victim hit by bullets from three guns: expert

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A teenager shot dead by police shortly after Hurricane Katrina was hit by bullets from at least three different guns, and received most of his wounds while lying on the ground, a pathologist said on Thursday.

James Brissette, 17, was shot seven times by guns including an AK-47 assault rifle, another rifle and a shotgun, forensic pathologist Vincent Di Maio told jurors in a New Orleans courtroom. Two shotgun pellet wounds at the base of his skull caused his death, Di Maio said.

A second victim, 40-year-old Ronald Madison, died from "massive internal bleeding" caused by a shotgun blast to his back," possibly suffered as he was running, Di Maio said.

Di Maio's testimony came near the end of week three in the federal civil rights trial of officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon in connection with the shooting on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge.

The shooting on September 4, 2005, when much of New Orleans was still underwater, killed the two men and seriously wounded four others including a woman whose arm was nearly blown off by gunfire.

Along with Sergeant Arthur Kaufman, the four officers are also accused of covering up the crimes through false reports and fake evidence. Five more have pleaded guilty to various charges relating to the incident.

Those wounded and killed had been walking on the Danziger Bridge 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.

Di Maio said several of those shot were struck while in a prone position. Di Maio is the author of several books including the forensic pathology textbook "Gunshot Wounds."

As he testified, lead prosecutor Barbara Bernstein showed the jury X-rays, diagrams and close-up photos of the wounded victims, including survivor Susan Bartholomew, whose arm was later amputated.

Bernstein had an assistant lie on the courtroom floor and assume different positions in which victims were found.

Holding a model of an AK-47 rifle, she leaned over a row of chairs to mimic the action of Bowen, who a witness has said bent over a concrete barrier, held his gun low and sprayed bullets into five people.

Witnesses have said all the shooting victims were unarmed.

Along with detailing many of the bullets and shotgun pellets that struck the six shooting victims, Di Maio's testimony helped the prosecution establish which officers shot which victims.

The prosecution likely will rest next week after presenting testimony by an FBI agent who interviewed the defendants and helped obtain guilty pleas from five other officers involved in the incident.

(Edited by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)