TULSA (CN) – An all-white jury heard opening statements Wednesday in the manslaughter trial of former volunteer Tulsa County sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates, who shot to death an unarmed and restrained black man.
Bates, 73, an insurance executive, pleaded not guilty in July last year to second-degree manslaughter involving culpable negligence. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to four years in state prison.
Bates is shown shooting Eric Courtney Harris, 44, in a body camera video of an illegal gun sale sting.
Harris is shown running away from deputies as they pull up to his vehicle. He is chased down, held to the ground and a single gunshot is heard.
Bates immediately says, “Oh, I shot him! I’m sorry!” as Harris screams.
An unidentified officer is heard saying, “Fuck your breath,” as Harris continues screaming that he is losing his breath .
Bates has steadfastly maintained that he mistook his gun for his Taser. He said both weapons had a laser to indicate the target.
“I saw the light and I squeezed the trigger, and then realized I dropped the gun,” he said in April 2015. “This was not an intentional thing. I had no desire to ever take anyone’s life.”
Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Gray told jurors Wednesday that the video shows Bates yelling “Taser” before the shot is fired but that “you will never see the Taser leave his vest.”
Bates’ attorney, Clark O. Brewster with Brewster & De Angelis in Tulsa, told jurors that Bates’s gun and Taser were of similar weights, had lasers and had a similar feel and look.
“When he yelled ‘Taser, Taser, Taser,’ he mistakenly had his gun instead of the Taser,” Brewster said.
Brewster told jurors he will call expert witnesses to testify about how stress could have affected Bates’ performance. He also plans to call medical experts who will testify that Harris died from a heart attack from a heart condition and alleged methamphetamine use.
Brewster told reporters outside the courtroom that the day “went as we expected” and that “we are confident that justice will be served.”
Harris’ brother, Andre Harris, told reporters his brother’s character is being attacked and that Brewster was “mean-mugging” him.
“He has been calling my brother by a street name – my brother is deceased, you know?” he said. “He needs to give him enough respect to call him Eric Harris.”
Brewster said he called Harris “Forty” out of respect for the way he referred to himself in text messages.
The fallout from Harris’s death forced the resignation of former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz. He resigned in September after three decades in office after a grand jury recommended his suspension, launched ouster proceedings and indicted him on two criminal misdemeanor charges.
Glanz was accused of failing to timely release an internal report into whether Bates was given favorable treatment for volunteering his time and money to the department.
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