Crime & Courts

Defense expert: Deputies shot Herring in the back, Herring’s gun went off accidentally

Sheriff’s deputies shot H. Dewain Herring in the back while he was running down a hallway at his home, an expert witness for the defense testified this morning in Herring’s murder trial.

Two sheriff’s investigators have testified that Herring pointed a gun at them before six deputies opened fire at the house while trying to arrest Herring for the murder of a strip club manager hours before.

Lawden Yates Jr., a retired forensics investigator and prosecutor, told jurors that Herring’s wound is proof he was shot in the back.

Yates also told jurors that based on evidence he reviewed, Herring was not aiming his gun at club manager John H. Johnson Jr. that night in January 2006, but was holding it across the front seat by the glove compartment.

Johnson, who managed Chastity’s Gold Club, was killed after he threw Herring out of the strip club, when a bullet went through the club’s wooden front door.

Herring’s attorney, Dick Harpootlian, suggested that Herring was trying to put away his cocked Ruger .357 when it went off accidentally. To convict Herring of murder, prosecutors must prove he had malice toward Johnson.

Harpootlian repeatedly pointed out that Richland County investigators did not assess the bullet’s trajectory at the strip club. Yates testified it is standard law enforcement procedure to measure trajectory when investigating a shooting.

Prosecutors asked for a break before they cross-examined Yates. Also in the courtroom was SLED firearms expert Vello Paavel, who testified Tuesday for the prosecution and was allowed to listen to Yates’ testimony — over Harpootlian’s strong objections.

Deputy 5th Circuit Solicitor John Meadors, who will cross examine Yates, whispered several times with Paavel during Yates’ testimony.

Harpootlian was upset this morning when Judge G. Thomas Cooper allowed Paavel to listen to the testimony. Cooper has ordered that all witnesses be sequestered, meaning they cannot listen to the testimony of other witnesses. Cooper had initially ruled that Paavel could not remain in the courtroom, but changed his mind after Meadors objected.

Meadors argued that Paavel, who is still under subpoena, is allowed to remain under an exception to the sequestration rule that allows expert witnesses to stay in the courtroom.

“We were not afforded that opportunity,” to have Yates listen to Paavel’s testimony, Harpootlian argued. “The rules change.”

Prosecutors officially rested their case this morning.

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