Dying blink: Jurors deliberate at trial hinging on blinks
CINCINNATI (AP) — A video showing a paralyzed shooting victim blinking his eyes is expected to be key in a murder trial as jurors consider whether the blinks were intentional responses to detectives’ questions.
Jurors resumed deliberations Wednesday morning in the trial of 35-year-old Ricardo Woods of Cincinnati. The panel deliberated for about two hours after getting the case Tuesday.
Woods is accused of shooting David Chandler in the face and neck on Oct. 28, 2010, as he sat in a car. Chandler was left paralyzed from the neck down and hooked up to a ventilator, dying about two weeks later.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have argued throughout the case about whether Chandler knew what he was doing when police told him to blink three times for yes and twice for no as they questioned him about the person who shot him. Prosecutors told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday that Chandler clearly identified Woods as his shooter, while the defense said the blinks weren’t conclusive.
Prosecutors said that Woods was a drug dealer and that Chandler knew him and purchased drugs from him in the past.
Jurors were shown the video interview that police conducted with Chandler, who was unable to speak. Police have said that they went to interview Chandler after his family told them that he was able to communicate by blinking his eyes and that he knew who shot him.
Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Jocelyn Chess told jurors Tuesday that Chandler clearly blinked three times in response to questions about whether he knew the shooter, whether he could identify him and whether Woods’ photo was a photo of the shooter.
Chandler also “clearly, intentionally and decisively” blinked three times when the detective asked him if he was sure that Woods was the person who shot him, Chess said. She also stressed that a doctor who treated Chandler testified that he did not have a traumatic brain injury and that “his cognitive ability was intact.”
But Woods’ attorney, Kory Jackson, told jurors that the blinks were inconsistent and unreliable and that Chandler’s condition and the drugs used to treat him could have affected his ability to understand and respond.
In the video, Chandler “isn’t answering the questions 50 percent of the time,” Jackson said.
He said the medical records also show “a very, very ill man who was medicated and could not make needed decisions for his care.”
Jackson also said that showing Chandler only one photo — that of Woods — instead of presenting a lineup of photos was “suggestive.” and that the case against Woods was about misidentification and “a misguided investigation.”
“At no point did police ever investigate anyone else,” Jackson said.
Both the prosecution and the defense focused on a jailhouse informant who testified that Woods told him that he shot at Chandler because he caught him buying drugs from someone else while still owing Woods money. Prosecutors said Woods threatened Chandler the day before he was shot because Chandler owed him $400.
The defense told jurors they should not believe the informant, whom Jackson described as “willing to do anything” to get a lighter sentence on armed robbery charges that he faces.
Adding that there was no DNA evidence, no fingerprints and no weapon to tie Woods to the crime, Jackson told jurors that if there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt and they aren’t convinced that Chandler made an accurate identification, “you must find Mr. Woods not guilty.”
Chess said that if jurors look at all the evidence, she is confident they will find that “the only just verdict is to find the defendant guilty as charged.”
Assistant Prosecutor David Prem also cautioned jurors not to make a decision based on any attempt by the defense to make them feel sorry for Woods.
“You have to use your common sense and make your decision based on that,” Prem said.
Woods is charged with murder, felonious assault and weapons counts and could be sentenced to life in prison, if convicted.