DETROIT (AP) — Armed with a shield and a submachine gun, a highly trained Detroit police officer made critical errors during a house raid that led to the fatal shooting of a sleeping 7-year-old girl, a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
There is no argument that an unintentional shot from Joseph Weekley’s gun killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones on May 16, 2010, as police stormed the home in search of a murder suspect. But the officer is on trial for involuntary manslaughter because authorities believe he was extremely negligent in failing to control his weapon.
Police, accompanied by a crew from the reality TV show, “The First 48,” fired a stun grenade into the home to cause confusion. Weekley, a member of the elite Special Response Team, was the first officer through the door — “the tip of the spear” — assistant prosecutor Rob Moran said in his opening statement to the jury.
“The flash grenade goes off: Boom!” Moran said. “He stands there. This is called the fatal funnel. You never stand in a doorway. Three seconds after the flash grenade detonates, his gun goes off and that’s when the fatal shot is fired.”
Aiyana was sleeping on the couch. Police have said Weekley was jostled by, or collided with, Aiyana’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones, causing the gun to fire. Prosecutors disagree.
“No one grabbed his gun. … There was no struggle,” Moran said.
But Weekley’s attorney countered that this was what happened. In his remarks to jurors, Steve Fishman said Jones grabbed the gun after the grenade went off.
“He pulls back and his hand hits the trigger. … It was an accident. It was not careless. It was not reckless,” the defense lawyer said.
He said Aiyana’s death was a “tragedy of the highest order,” but not a crime.
Fishman said Weekley was “completely despondent” and vomited when he learned the shot had killed the girl.
The jury will be shown video of the raid recorded by “The First 48,” an A&E Networks show that focuses on the early stages of homicide investigations. Jurors also will be taken away from the courthouse to see a demonstration of a stun grenade, which is loud, gives off a bright light and temporarily affects the hearing of people nearby.
Only three witnesses testified on the first day and none offered much about the circumstances behind the shooting. Aiyana’s mother, Dominika Stanley, had trouble controlling tears as she spoke to jurors. A “Hannah Montana” blanket used by her daughter that night was just a few feet away.
Stanley said police first ordered her to sit on the bloody couch where her daughter was shot and then drove her to a hospital. Doctors there delivered the bad news.
“My baby didn’t make it,” she said.
Fishman signaled that the credibility of Jones, the grandmother, would be a key issue at trial. He told jurors that she has given three different versions of what happened that night, including a claim that Weekley intentionally killed Aiyana.
Wayne County Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway has barred the jury from taking notes, despite a 2011 order from the Michigan Supreme Court encouraging all trial judges to allow the practice. Hathaway didn’t explain her decision.