HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A small-town police officer on trial for fatally shooting an unarmed motorist in the back testified Wednesday in her murder trial that she believed the man had a gun and she feared for her safety as he lay on the ground.
Hummelstown Officer Lisa Mearkle told jurors she believed David Kassick was still a threat even after she shocked him repeatedly with a stun gun.
"I wish he was here right now. I wish he didn't do this," Mearkle said, sobbing. "I didn't want to have to shoot him, but he made me."
The encounter was captured on video by a camera attached to Mearkle's stun gun. The footage, which was played to jurors, showed the 37-year-old officer shocking Kassick before shooting him twice in the back as he lay face down in the snow in February.
In the video, Kassick's hands repeatedly disappeared underneath his body as Mearkle screamed at him to keep them where she could see them and then fired the fatal shots. The trial judge has ordered that the video not be released to the public until there is a verdict.
The encounter began when Mearkle attempted to pull over Kassick after noticing an expired inspection sticker on his sedan. She pursued him to Kassick's sister's home, where he had been living, and he ran to the backyard.
Mearkle caught up to him in the yard. She said she was convinced he had a gun in his jacket and was reaching for it.
"There was no other reason for him to reach in his freaking jacket," Mearkle said. "What else was I supposed to think he's reaching for?"
She described an intense scene in which dispatchers were talking to her by radio and Kassick's brother was yelling at her to stop shocking the 59-year-old with the stun gun.
The two gunshots were a few seconds apart. Mearkle administered CPR as others arrived.
In tears, Mearkle said: "This is horrible for me. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
It's not clear why Kassick fled, but investigators recovered a syringe by his body and prosecutors have said alcohol and unspecified drugs were in his system.
Mearkle has been on unpaid suspension since her arrest and is currently out on bail. In addition to third-degree murder, she is charged with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
She testified she hopes to return to police work.
"I'm a good police officer," she told jurors. "This should not have happened to me."