By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Graphic photographs of 20-year-old Anna Catherine McCoy on the night of her death were flashed on a court screen Wednesday.
Family, friends and the man accused of shooting her all reacted emotionally in the Lee County Justice Center as prosecutor Richard Bowen walked a Saltillo police officer through the photos. The officer described the scene at the home of defendant, Thomas James Ward, about 10 p.m. April 15, 2010.
“Was he screaming, was he hysterical, was he frantic, was he desperate,” Ward’s attorney, Victor Fleitas, asked Prentiss Brown, now Saltillo’s assistant chief.
“Yes he was,” Brown said as the trial’s first witness.
Ward, 25, insists he is innocent of the charge of depraved-heart murder, which compounds a murder charge with reckless disregard for the safety of another. Fleitas said the 20-year-old Itawamba Community College soccer player’s death was a tragic accident, not murder.
“Thomas Ward is not a murderer,” he told the 12-member jury with three alternates early Wednesday afternoon after the panel was seated and sworn.
The trial began Tuesday with a large jury pool, which took 11⁄2 days to question and select the final 15.
District Attorney Trent Kelly, in office barely four months, made the state’s opening arguments to the jury, saying Ward “shot and murdered her, ending her life and her future and her dreams.”
The state, Kelly said, will prove that Ward shot McCoy in the face with a .40-caliber handgun, the bullet exiting the top of her skull and killing her instantly.
“This was not an accidental bump of the trigger,” Kelly stressed, saying the weapon had at least two safety features to prevent that from happening.
If convicted, Ward faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
But Fleitas told the jury “this case is going to be about intent.”
“Thomas James Ward did not intentionally or in any way desire to kill Anna Catherine McCoy,” Fleitas said. “He did not kill her.”
Circuit Judge James L. Roberts Jr. presides over the trial, which he said he expects to last into next week. Today’s session begins at 9 a.m. About three dozen people were in Wednesday’s audience.
After opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Richard Bowen began the state’s case with testimony from Brown, who told about the E-911 call, saying police were needed to respond to a possible self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Brown recounted the sight of the bloody scene at the Ward home and steps he took to try to revive McCoy while emergency medical personnel were on the way.
Later he told of taking photographs in the bedroom where McCoy’s body lay.
In addition to identifying his and another photographer’s pictures of the Ward home and the inside scene, he also identified items he’d sent to the Mississippi Crime Lab for analysis – a gun, ammunition, a spent cartridge, a bed pillow and pillow case with blood and long strands of blond hair on it.
At the start, Brown admitted to picking up the gun and instinctively closing its “slide” on top, which revealed an empty magazine.
On cross examination by Fleitas, Brown admitted he failed to report or photograph the original state of the weapon. He also said the bedroom was not sealed off or declared a crime scene, and the Wards were allowed back in the home just hours after McCoy’s body was removed. Brown also said that he never returned to the scene.
“Isn’t it true that your handling of the firearm was wrong?” Fleitas pressed. Brown answered yes and that he “forgot” to mention it in his report.
Bowen sought to undo the damage by asking Brown if he had “any improper motive” by moving the slide forward.
“I did not,” Brown said. “We’re trained to keep our slides forward. Out of habit, I slid it forward.”
The jury includes five women and seven men, with three male alternates. Only one juror is black, an issue Fleitas tried to press early Wednesday but Roberts denied his objections, saying he saw no evidence of bias in the state’s decision to strike numerous jurors who were black. Ward is white.