In big black letters, between quotation marks, 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese today wrote these words on a piece of paper hanging from a wall in the Richland County courtroom: “I fired the gun.”
Defense attorney Dick Harpootlian promptly tore the paper off the wall, wadded it up and threw it in a trash can. He then wrote his own words in smaller, red letters: “I did not intend (underlined, twice) to hurt anyone.”
Those two statements, made by H. Dewain Herring to Chief Deputy David Wilson of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department the day after Herring’s arrest for murder, defines the five-day murder trial.
Jurors must decide if Herring knew what he was doing when he fired one shot from a Ruger .357 at the door of Chastity’s Gold Club on River Drive in January 2006. The shot killed the club manager John H. Johnson Jr., who had just escorted Herring out of the club for taking off his clothes in one of the club’s private rooms.
Wilson testified that Herring did not know that anyone had died, or that he was charged with murder, when he gave two, conflicting statements to agents from the State Law Enforcement Division. Herring found out Johnson was dead, and that he was accused of killing him, when Wilson told him shortly after noon on Jan. 29, 2006 — the day after the shooting.
“He said, ‘No, no, no,’ and lowered his head in his hands,” Wilson said during his testimony this morning. “He said he needed a lawyer.”
Wilson also said Herring was bleeding from a gunshot wound from a Richland County deputy, received during the confrontation at Herring’s house after the club shooting. Harpootlian said Monday that EMS workers had recommended just before a police interview that Herring return to the hospital because his wound was bleeding.
Wilson said Herring never denied firing his weapon at Chastity’s that night. That’s when Harpootlian, returning to the paper hanging to the right of the jury box, wrote, “NO, NO, NO,” in capital letters.
“Which part of ‘no’ do you not understand?” Harpootlian asked Wilson.
“I think he (Herring) was surprised. I don’t think that was a denial,” Wilson replied. “I think he was horrified to be charged with murder. I don’t think until that point he knew he had shot someone.”
During the interviews, Herring made conflicting statements to SLED agents. He said at first he had never left his house that night before he admitted he had been to Chastity’s and might have fired his gun by accident. Harpootlian pointed out that when Herring said those things, he had no idea he was charged with murder, and accused Wilson of intentionally not telling Herring about the charge.
“You wanted to be sure you nailed down the case against Mr. Herring,” Harpootlian said. “If he’s guilty of murder, then what’s the problem of shooting a murderer?”
The security video, which shows Herring’s car in front of the club just before and after the shooting, was sent to NASA officials for review.
Chuck Earles, with the sheriff’s department, testified earlier this morning that NASA scientists viewed the video on a 96-inch, high-resolution screen — the same screen that scientists use to review shuttle launches. Earles testified the scientists could not enhance the image enough to determine if it showed a bullet being fired.