Ohio trial hinging on dying man's blinks opens

AP News
Posted: May 01, 2013 7:56 PM

CINCINNATI (AP) — A dying, paralyzed shooting victim who couldn't speak intentionally blinked his eyes to identify a photo of his attacker for authorities, prosecutors said Wednesday in opening statements at the suspect's murder trial, while the defense insists those blinks were inconsistent and unreliable.

Those arguments in the trial of Ricardo Woods are expected to be repeated over the next few weeks as jurors are asked to decide whether Woods killed David Chandler, of Cincinnati. Chandler, 35, died about two weeks after a shooting on Oct. 28, 2010, left him paralyzed from the neck down and able to communicate only with his eyes. Woods was later charged with murder, felonious assault and weapons counts in the case.

The trial's outcome is expected to hinge on a videotaped police interview with Chandler in the hospital. Jurors will have to determine whether Chandler was alert and knew what he was doing when police say he blinked three times for yes to identify a photo of Woods as his shooter.

Police asked Chandler to blink three times for yes and twice for no to a series of questions in the interview, said Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor David Prem. Chandler also blinked yes to indicate that he knew the gunman and that his name began with the letter O, Prem said. O was a street name that Woods sometimes used, the prosecutor said.

Prem told jurors that when they view the video, they will clearly see that Chandler knew what he was doing.

"You are going to see how he was struggling to get it right," Prem said.

The motive for the shooting, the prosecutor said, was that Chandler owed Woods money for drugs. Chandler was a drug user who had bought drugs many times from Woods but had gone to an area near Woods' home the night of the shooting with two friends to buy drugs from someone else. Chandler was shot about 20 yards from Woods' home and in an area known for drug deals, he said. Prem said that while neither of the men in the car with Chandler could clearly identify the man who shot him, one heard a voice yelling Chandler's name.

Defense attorney Wendy Calaway insisted that Woods did not shoot Chandler and is "an innocent man who found himself in a perfect storm of misinformation and misidentification." Calaway said Chandler had stolen drugs from dealers previously.

"He had many enemies," Calaway said of Chandler.

He had received threats and was considered a "snitch" who informed on drug dealers to police, according to Calaway. Police decided before their investigation was completed that Woods was the shooter and never followed up on any other leads, Calaway said.

Calaway also focused on the blinking identification, saying that while doctors were able to establish a "rudimentary" communication system with Chandler, "his blinks were inconsistent and sporadic."

He only blinked in response to doctors' commands about 50 percent of the time, she said.

Both sides are expected to call medical experts to testify about the ability of someone in Woods' condition to understand and respond to questions.

Other witnesses expected to be called include a priest who was a friend to Chandler and gave him money before the shooting, Prem said. A man who was in jail with Woods will testify that Woods told him that he didn't mean to kill Chandler but that he was angry that Chandler owed him money for drugs and was trying to buy drugs from someone else, Prem said.

The judge has said that the trial could take up to three weeks.