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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Rocky Houston did not tell his side of a deadly shootout when he took the witness stand on Tuesday.
Instead, he only offered brief assurances to the judge that he understood what he was doing by exercising his right not to testify in his double murder trial.
“And that's your own personal decision?” Special Judge James “Buddy” Scott asked.
“Yes,” Rocky responded.
The defense rested its case after some pictures were passed around to the jury. Lawyers are set to give closing arguments on Wednesday.
Houston is accused of killing Roane County Sheriff's Deputy Bill Jones and Mike Brown. Jones and Brown, a former lawman, were good friends who often road together when Jones was out on patrol. They were killed in a shootout with Rocky and his older brother on May 11, 2006. Leon Houston's July trial ended in a hung jury. He's scheduled to be retried next year.
During his opening statement in Rocky's trial, defense attorney Randy Rogers hinted his client might testify. Rocky also said there was a strong possibility he would testify.
However, his only comments from the witness stand came outside the presence of the jury when Scott was questioning him about the decision not to testify.
“Are you taking any mind-altering medication at this time?” Scott asked.
“No, sir,” Rocky responded.
“So this is of your own free will. Is that right?” Scott asked.
“Yes, sir,” Rocky responded.
Rogers had planned to put on more proof, but his attempt to introduce evidence about a 1989 police shooting involving Jones was scuttled when Scott decided to disallow it.
“This jury is not trying that incident,” Scott said.
Jones worked for the Harriman Police Department at the time. Rogers wanted the issue brought before the jury to support his contention that Jones and Brown were the aggressors when they showed up at Leon's Barnard Narrows Road home the day they got killed.
A hearing on the matter was held outside the presence of the jury. The son of Elige Pelfrey, the man Jones was said to have shot and killed, testified about what he remembered about the incident. The shooting happened on Dec. 12, 1989. However, George Pelfrey was steadfast that it happened in 1990.
“They didn't think of life, safety or nothing,” Pelfrey said. “They just fired at him.”
Pelfrey said the officer who showed up with Jones was deceased.
“Would it surprise you if he's here to testify today?” special prosecutor Kenneth Irvine asked Pelfrey during cross-examination.
“No sir,” Pelfrey responded.
“You think he's passed away, but it wouldn't surprise you if he's here to testify?” Irvine asked.
Pelfrey then said he was only going by what he was told. He was given some wrong information because Chuck Moore, Jones' partner from that night, was in court to testify. He said they were responding to a call about a hostage situation with shots fired. His account of the shooting was much different than the one given by George Pelfrey.
“Elige come around with a revolver and pointed it at me,” Moore said.
Moore said Jones fired two shots. Had he not, Moore said there was no doubt in his mind he would have been shot.
“The revolver was pointed right in my face when he was shot,” Moore said.
Scott sent the jurors home at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, so he could prepare his lengthy charge on the law that jurors will apply to the case.
“You will take it back to the jury room and you will apply the law to the facts that you've heard,” Scott told jurors before they left.
Lawyers spent part of the afternoon reviewing and debating the language that will be in the instructions Scott gives to the jury. Rocky is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony murder. He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole if convicted. However, the jury will have the option to convict on lesser offenses.
Sixteen jurors – 12 women and four men – have listened to the evidence, but only 12 will deliberate. Scott will randomly draw names to determine the final 12.
“Each one of you 16 are potential jurors,” Scott said.
Rogers again asked Scott to acquit Rocky of the charges. Scott said Rocky's fate should be decided by the jury, not the judge, so the request was abruptly denied.
Rogers also made another plea to have the jury sequestered. Scott has declined to do so thus far, but told Rogers he'll take it under advisement.
“I'll think it over tonight and give you an answer tomorrow,” Scott said.
The jurors also didn't get to hear from former Roane County sheriff David Haggard. Attorneys said he was unavailable because of health reasons.