TULSA, Okla. (CN) – Groans filled the courtroom Thursday during the fourth day of trial for a white former Tulsa police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man, when her attorney implied that a screwdriver in the man’s SUV could be considered a weapon.
Betty Shelby, 43, faces up to life in state prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September last year after he failed to comply with her instructions as he walked toward her police cruiser in the middle of a street, then back to his disabled car.
Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher walking away from Shelby with both arms in the air before she shot him to death.
Shelby insists she fired her drawn weapon out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside the car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car.
Shelby also said he appeared to be on PCP, or angel dust. A medical examiner confirmed that the drug was in his system when he died.
Defense attorney Shannon McMurray, of Tulsa, asked police Cpl. Terrence Joe Campbell on cross-examination if a screwdriver he photographed on the center console of Crutcher’s car could be considered a weapon.
Campbell agreed, prompting spectators in the gallery near Crutcher’s family to moan and shake their heads, the Tulsa World reported.
The Rev. Mareo Johnson, a member of Black Lives Matter, told the newspaper the defense line of questioning was desperate and that McMurray was “grasping” and “trying to save face.”
Several other photographs that Campbell took of Crutcher’s car after the shooting were shown to jurors, including some that showed the left-front window open. Shelby has said the window was open when Crutcher reached into the car.
Crutcher’s family disagrees. Several days after the shooting, they displayed photographs from the helicopter video showing the window was closed.
Campbell told prosecutors during direct examination that no weapons were found in Crutcher’s car, only school books.
Two of Crutcher’s instructors at Tulsa Community College also testified for the prosecution, saying he did not appear to be intoxicated in the hour before his death.
Sharolyn Wallace and Michelle Ogan testified the Crutcher was a kind man who was concerned that night that a music appreciation class for which he registered had been canceled for the semester.
During opening statements Wednesday, Shelby’s attorneys accused Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler of prematurely charging the officer due to public pressure resulting from Shelby’s being white and Crutcher black. The defense attorneys say Kunzweiler filed the case before a police investigation concluded and had his own investigator step in though a police investigator had been assigned the case.