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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Hours and hours of testimony have come from TBI forensic scientist Robert Daniel Royse since he took the witness stand in Leon Houston's double murder trial last Thursday. He offered more ballistic evidence on Monday.
However, despite his expertise and volumes of evidence, the state's key witness still can't conclusively provide the answer to one important question. Which party fired first in a shootout that left a sheriff's deputy and his friend dead and Leon facing life in prison?
“From a forensic perspective, I can't put an order to it,” Royse told lead defense attorney James Logan during cross examination.
The state contends that Leon and his brother, Rocky, ambushed Roane County Sheriff's Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along passenger Mike Brown. The brothers, who are being tried separately on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony murder, claim they acted in self defense.
The brothers and the deceased men all fired shots during the gunfight that took place on May 11, 2006. Special prosecutor Robert “Gus” Radford told the jury during his opening statement last week that Jones and Brown didn't anticipate a shootout when Jones drove to Leon's home on Barnard Narrows Road to serve a warrant on Rocky.
“In the trunk of the (patrol) car were some high powered weapons that were never accessed,” Radford said.
Those weapons were introduced into evidence on Monday. They showed that Jones had an arsenal in his trunk. The weapons included a 12-gauge pump shotgun, two rifles and another gun with a laser sight that's used for marking a target.
A 12-gauge shotgun that Jones had inside the patrol car was also introduced into evidence. Lawyers for the brothers have implied that Jones and Brown pulled up to Leon's residence shooting. Jones fired 15 times with a .357-caliber Glock pistol, but he never used the shotgun.
Radford asked Royse what would have been a more effective weapon to go on the offensive with, the Glock or the shotgun.
“Certainly the shotgun would have,” Royse said.
Royse also testified about some gruesome details that were the result of the violence that transpired that day. He said a bone fragment with four teeth was found in front of the patrol car driven by Jones. The bone fragment is believed to have come from Brown.
During his opening statement, Radford said a bullet hit Brown with such force that it dislodged part of his jaw bone and sent it up the road some 80 feet. Royse said it was found “in the neighborhood of 100 feet” in front of the patrol car.
The jury was also shown a picture of the inside of Jones' patrol car.
After he got the car back to the TBI crime lab, Royse testified, he inserted trajectory rods into the holes where bullets entered the vehicle. The seats appeared to be soaked with blood stains, the picture showed.
Logan wasn't finished with his cross examination of Royse when Judge James “Buddy” Scott dismissed court for the day.
"I'd love to get done today," Royse joked with Logan during a break.
Also today, Randall Townsend, a lifelong friend of the Houston brothers, testified about an encounter he supposedly had with Deputy Jones the day Jones and Brown were killed.
"He (Jones) patted his gun with his right hand," Townsend told the jury. "He said if you see Rocky Houston, you tell him I got something for him."
The state had yet to rest its case, but Townsend was called by the defense because he has cancer treatments scheduled for the rest of this week.
"I have no reason to lie," Townsend told Logan.
Radford questioned Townsend's character during cross examination.
Townsend, who said he has lung cancer, told the jury that he pleaded guilty in 2002 to charges related to a stolen credit card.
"I did use it," Townsend said of the stolen credit card.
"When you were handed that stolen credit card, you didn't say I need to take this back to the owner," Radford asked.
Townsend said he was doing some yard work at his mother's home, which he said is about a mile from Leon's place, when Jones pulled up in his patrol car.
“He said, 'Townsend, have you seen Rocky or Leon Houston today?” Townsend said.
Before returning to his patrol car, Townsend said Jones made the threat where he patted his gun.
Radford asked Townsend why he never told the FBI about the threat when he was interviewed the day after the shooting.
“I answered the questions they asked me,” Townsend said.
Regarding the charges related to the stolen credit card, Townsend told the court those shouldn't be held against him because he's paid his debt to society.
“I'm looking at death everyday of my life,” Townsend said. “I've got to face God like we all have to.”
Photographs of the bodies of Jones and Brown that were taken at the scene following the shootout were introduced into evidence Monday morning.
Technical glitches and how they were dealt with caused Judge James "Buddy" Scott to voice dismay about movement that was going on in front of his bench. The computerized slideshow presentation that Royse has been showing the jury throughout his testimony wasn't working in the morning.
Logan was trying to fix it when Scott expressed his frustration.
"This court would appreciate your asking permission to do some of the things you're doing," Scott said.
"Just trying to be helpful," Logan responded.
Radford said he detoured from his case and began introducing the pictures of Jones and Brown at the scene because the slideshow wasn't working.
Once it was fixed, he returned to the ballistics portion of his case.
Radford originally estimated that he could be through with the state's case by Tuesday morning. That doesn't seem possible now. Royse is still not finished testifying, and the forensic pathologist has also not testified.