Weekley prosecution nears its conclusion
Detroit — The prosecution is expected to rest its case Friday in the retrial of a Detroit police officer who shot a 7-year-old girl during a police raid.
Officer Joseph Weekley says Aiyana Stanley-Jones' grandmother, Mertilla Jones, slapped at his weapon when he led the raid into her house, which he says caused his gun to fire. Jones says Weekley shot the girl execution-style as she slept on the couch in the living room.
Weekley is expected to take that stand in his defense. His first trial ended in a hung jury.
Friday's court action comes a day after jurors saw a demonstration of the flash-bang grenade that played a key role in the raid that was being filmed by a TV crew.
Jurors were taken by van to the bungalow-style home, escorted by police and court officers. Once inside, they donned safety glasses and gathered along a living room wall away from where the device was detonated.
When police officers deployed the grenade, which exploded with a quick burst of light and a loud "pop," some of the jurors gasped in surprise at the sound and speed. Then the room quickly filled with smoke, prompting some people to cough and some court personnel to wipe tears from their eyes.
The demonstration lasted about five minutes. Under orders from the court, the media were not allowed to reveal the location of the home.
A similar grenade was thrown into Jones' home seconds before Detroit police entered the lower flat.
Some observers have been critical of the police's use of the device, claiming it was only deployed to provide pyrotechnics for a television crew that accompanied the raid.
But Tim Dollinger, who was in charge of the team's tactics and operations, and other Special Response Team members have said it's not unusual to use the devices.
Dollinger testified police are trained to avoid using flash-bang grenades when infants are present, but that they may be deployed if a child older than 1½ is at the raid location.
Earlier Thursday, testimony about the flash-bang grenade led to Hathaway kicking a blogger out of her courtroom, a day after she apparently scoffed during testimony in the trial.
Diane Bukowski of voiceofdetroit.net made a sound while a retired police captain who was with Weekley's SRT unit during the raid testified Wednesday about the use of a diversionary grenade.
After Dollinger's statement, Bukowski, who is openly critical of Detroit police and Weekley on her blog, appeared to scoff. After Wednesday's proceedings, and after the jury left the courtroom, Hathaway admonished the media about the outburst, but didn't single out Bukowski, who was arrested by Michigan State Police a few years ago for crossing police tape at a crime scene.
The judge said if she found out who had made the noise, she would ban the person from future testimony. Deputies questioned the media about who had made the sound.
Before the jury was brought into the courtroom Thursday morning, Weekley's attorney, Steve Fishman, asked the judge to uphold the ban. The judge said Bukowski told her she hadn't scoffed, but was trying to suppress a sneeze. Hathaway said she originally told the woman Wednesday she could stay in the courtroom, but decided against it after interviewing her staff.
"I'm very serious about order and fairness," the judge said. "Anything that interferes with order and justice, I'm not very happy about."
Weekley's first trial in June 2013 ended in a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict. The second trial has been marked by more incidents than the first. In addition to Bukowski's courtroom ban, the judge admonished Aiyana's grandmother, Mertilla Jones, after she wailed on the witness stand and accused Weekley of lying because he claims she slapped at his weapon when he led the raid into the home, which he says caused his gun to fire.
Hathaway also sternly warned Aiyana's aunt, LaKrystal Sanders, after she had an outburst on the stand.
Also Thursday, Lt. John Widmer, who was in charge of the Special Response Team, testified. He said during the raid, when he saw Weekley come back onto the porch, he was "irritated" at first, because he was deviating from the plan. But he quickly figured out what had happened.
"I've got to cover this door," Widmer said he told Weekley. "I didn't know what he wanted. He said 'as I was making entry, a woman grabbed my gun and it went off and it hit a kid.' I remember saying 'what?' I just didn't believe it."
Widmer said Weekley looked distraught.
"I've never seen anybody close to me look like that," he said. "He's a very good officer."
Jones has testified that Weekley shot her granddaughter execution-style, and that police entered the home with intention to kill. When asked about that claim, Widmer said: "Any one of the men you've met on the stand would have stepped in front of that (bullet) if they had the opportunity."
Widmer said Weekley and the SRT underwent weapons training a few weeks before the raid. Prosecutors asked him, and the other police officers who have testified in the trial, whether they are trained to keep their fingers off the triggers of their guns. It's a point prosecutors have stressed, since they say Weekley was careless by keeping his finger on the trigger during the raid.
Staff Writer Charles E. Ramirez contributed.