Bullets that killed Mendota Heights officer came from Fitch's gun, BCA scientist testifies
ST. CLOUD, Minn. - The testimony from the state forensic scientist was unequivocal: the bullets that killed Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick came from Brian Fitch Sr.'s gun.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. - The testimony from the state forensic scientist was unequivocal: the bullets that killed Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick came from Brian Fitch Sr.’s gun.
But defense attorneys challenged that conclusion with vigor Wednesday, arguing the analysis was subjective rather than scientific and that the entire field of firearms testing was littered with pitfalls.
Jurors in Fitch’s murder trial also heard testimony from a prison inmate who said Fitch approached him while incarcerated in December about having two key witnesses in the case - his girlfriend and a woman with whom he lived - killed.
The trial, which is being held in St. Cloud because of concerns Fitch couldn’t get a fair jury in Dakota County, concluded its fifth day of testimony Wednesday.
Fitch, 40, is accused of gunning down Patrick, a 47-year-old Mendota Heights police veteran, during a traffic stop in West St. Paul on July 30. He is also charged with attempted murder for allegedly firing on other officers during his arrest in St. Paul the same day.
Fitch has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Testimony from Kurt Moline, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientist who tested the handgun found in a vehicle during Fitch’s arrest, drew the most direct link yet between the defendant and Patrick’s shooting.
Moline said test-fired rounds from the Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol had grooves and markings - produced as the bullet travels through the barrel - that matched those on the two bullets recovered from Patrick’s body.
The medical examiner who performed Patrick’s autopsy said either of the shots - one to the abdomen, one to the head - would have been fatal.
The gun also matched a third bullet found in the street near the scene of Patrick’s shooting at Dodd Road and Smith Avenue, Moline said. That shot passed through the officer’s leg.
Also matching the gun was a spent cartridge casing found behind the driver’s seat of Fitch’s Pontiac Grand Am - the car Patrick pulled over just before he died - and other spent shells found in and around the Hyundai Veracruz that Fitch was driving when he allegedly engaged in a shootout with police during his arrest.
Other witnesses, including Fitch’s ex-girlfriend, have said they saw him with the gun. Moline said he was confident the markings on the bullets and casings were unique to that weapon.
Lauri Traub, one of Fitch’s defense attorneys, grilled Moline about his findings in nearly an hour of cross-examination.
There’s no objective or statistical standard for how closely bullet markings must match for an examiner to conclude they came from the same gun, she said - and some studies have found examiners can mistake markings common to guns of a certain model for unique traits.
Markings from the same gun can vary widely, Traub said, and markings from different guns can closely resemble one another. As manufacturing has become more standardized and reliable, unique differences between guns of the same make may have faded, she said.
“It’s fair to say that not everyone agrees with your opinion that firearms evidence is reliable?” she asked.
People in the field think it is, Moline replied.
“And those are people who get their paychecks because they practice in the field, correct?” she said.
Defense attorneys tried before the trial to have the gun testing evidence thrown out, raising many of the same arguments. Dakota County District Judge Mary J. Theisen denied the bid.
Traub also argued that the analysis wasn’t what scientists would consider a “blind test” because Moline only tested one gun and knew it was tied to the case.
Rick Dusterhoft, one of the prosecutors, asked whether Moline had ever done blind testing. Moline said he had, taking part in experiments in which he had to analyze 15 unknown bullets against 10 different weapons of the same make.
“I got them all right,” he said.
Later in the day, Claude Crockson, a man currently serving time in Stillwater state prison for burglary and assault, took the stand. He said Fitch asked him about having two witnesses - Taya Moran and Laurie Pocock - killed when the two men were in the medical unit of Oak Park Heights prison in December.
Wearing a prison jumpsuit and handcuffs, Crockson testified that Fitch told him both women would make valuable robbery targets. Fitch didn’t want anything from them; he just wanted them dead.
Moran is Fitch’s ex-girlfriend. She testified earlier in the trial that Fitch told her the night before Patrick’s death that he would shoot a police officer if pulled over.
She also said she had seen Fitch with two guns resembling the ones found in the Veracruz after his arrest.
Pocock was among Fitch’s roommates in Mendota Heights at the time of Patrick’s slaying. Fitch bought the Grand Am from her boyfriend and left her residence in it the morning of the shooting. The car was still registered in her name.
The jury saw a detailed hand-drawn map to Moran’s Oakdale apartment that Crockson said Fitch had passed him under his cell door. It was drawn on holiday stationery with a Christmas tree design; investigators later found matching stationery in Fitch’s cell.
Crockson alerted authorities to the alleged plot. Investigators found the map in an envelope in his cell.
Christopher Olson, a BCA special agent, was among those who looked into the matter. Traub suggested during his cross-examination that Crockson could have learned details like Moran’s and Pocock’s names from media reports about the case and drawn the map himself.
Crockson, whose sentence runs until 2020, said he didn’t ask for - nor was he offered - anything in exchange for the information about the alleged murder plot. Traub said any such deals generally don’t come to fruition until after the fact.
In discussing the information with Crockson, Olson asked: “You’re not asking anything of us today?”
Crockson responded: “Not today.”
The prosecution is expected to finish with its witnesses Thursday, followed by the defense. The case won’t go to the jury for deliberations until Monday.
Jurors will be sequestered once they get the case, and Judge Theisen said she didn’t want to do that during the weekend of the Super Bowl.
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