Tears, outbursts in Kalamazoo court

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Kalamazoo — Many preliminary examinations are fairly sedate affairs.

But the preliminary exam Friday of an Uber driver charged with killing six people in the Kalamazoo area was anything but.

Kalamazoo County deputies remove Jason Dalton after an outburst during his preliminary examination Friday in district court in Kalamazoo.

The hearing had hardly started when defendant Jason Dalton made a series of outbursts, talking gibberish, during the testimony of the first witness, Tiana Carruthers, one of two victims who survived the Feb. 20 shooting rampage.

Carruthers, 25, already skittish when she took the stand, began to wail when the shackled Dalton tried to stand and jostled with deputies.

Carruthers was unable to continue testifying, so the hearing was recessed, 30 minutes after it started.

Dalton was taken to the Kalamazoo County Jail, where he watched the rest of the hearing through a video feed.

After a 90-minute break, Carruthers returned to the stand and was followed by 11 other witnesses, including two others who testified they saw Dalton during the rampage. Other evidence included shell casings recovered from the shooting scenes and photos of Dalton’s car during the incident.

When the prosecution finished, District Judge Christopher Haenicke ruled that enough evidence existed to send the case to Circuit Court for trial.

“I didn’t count up how many witnesses (testified), but there were quite a few,” Haenicke said in making his ruling.

During emotional testimony, Carruthers said she, along with her daughter and four other children, were walking to a park near her home when Dalton nearly hit them with his car, asking if she was “Macy.”

Dalton left but immediately returned, this time holding a gun outside the car window, said Carruthers. She told the children to run.

“I began to run toward anywhere, just to take cover,” she said. “I just remember him shooting and shooting.”

Carruthers described her litany of injuries: a bullet wound to her backside, a bullet in her liver, both femurs broken and an arm that had to be reconstructed.

She uses a cane, and a woman helped her as she moved slowly to the witness stand.

When Carruthers went to a doctor recently, she looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe what she saw, she testified.

“I looked like the Bionic Woman,” she said. “I don’t even look real.”

A 17-year-old Kalamazoo girl testified that she saw her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s father fatally shot.

Alexis Cornish was in the back seat of a car at an auto dealership while her beau, Tyler Smith, and Smith’s father, Richard, were looking at a car.

A man walked up to the Smiths and asked what they were looking at and, when they began to answer, the man shot them, said Cornish.

Asked by a prosecutor how many shots were fired, Cornish replied, “Enough not to miss.”

Media were tightly restricted during the hearing.

The judge didn’t allow reporters in the courtroom, with the exception of two pool photographers, one for TV and one for print.

All the other reporters were shuttled to a different courtroom, where they watched the proceedings on a large-screen TV.

Haenicke reserved the courtroom for only family members of the victims because he wanted to make sure they had a seat, said Ann Filkins, district court administrator. About 30 people sat in the courtroom during the hearing.

Separating the media also kept them apart from the families and the victims, who had asked for privacy.

Chief Kalamazoo District Judge Richard Santoni insisted the court wasn’t closed to reporters; it was just full.

“We are dealing with space and public safety issues,” he said in an email.

In March, reporters were told Dalton’s pre-exam conference wouldn’t be open to the press. After the hearing, Filkins said the proceeding was open to reporters.

Haenicke declined to comment to The Detroit News.

The hearing Friday came after Dalton was found mentally competent to stand trial last month.

District Judge Tiffany Ankley made the competency ruling after receiving the results of a psychological exam from the state Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ann Arbor. She said Dalton was mentally competent because he understands the charges and possible punishment against him and is able to help his attorney in his defense.

The findings of the mental competency exam pertain only to Dalton’s current state of mind, not to what he was thinking during his alleged rampage. It doesn’t preclude him from eventually mounting an insanity defense.

The defendant previously told investigators the shootings were caused by an Uber app on his cellphone, which turned into a devil’s head and controlled his actions during the rampage.

Killed in the attacks were Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda; Richard Smith, 53, and his son Tyler, 17, of Mattawan; and Mary Jo Nye, 60, Dorothy “Judy” Brown, 74, and Barbara Hawthorne, 68, all of Battle Creek.

The other victim, Abigail Kopf, 14, is recovering from her injuries.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell