Wednesday, September 19, 2012Author: Jeremy Styron
(Last modified: 2012-09-20 12:41:48)
A jury delivered a verdict of not guilty Wednesday at Loudon County Courthouse in the second degree murder case of Norman Bren Whitton.
Whitton was accused of shooting and killing fellow Tellico Village resident, Larry Butcher, on April 15, 2010, at the corner of Toqua Road and Cheestana Way in Tellico Village. He appeared emotionless throughout the trial, until the verdict was read. He then took off his glasses and appeared to be crying.
Frank Harvey, assistant district attorney with the 9th Judicial District, said he thought the difference in the case was Tennessee's so-called "stand your ground" law, noting that it was "burdensome" on the state in carrying out prosecutions.
"It's almost impossible in a lot of situations to overcome that," Harvey said. "It's way above and beyond the standard burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It adds layer upon layer to it - just makes it very, very difficult."
The case stemmed from the question of whether Whitton acted in self-defense when Butcher allegedly choked Whitton in his car after an apparent argument ensued in the middle of the road. According to witness testimony, a car horn was heard in the neighborhood, followed quickly by a gunshot.
During a police interview after the incident, Whitton said Butcher was blocking the roadway, and after Whitton blew the horn, Butcher pulled the golf cart next to Whitton's white Cadillac, lunged at him through the window and proceeded to choke him.
Defense attorney Brian Nichols, with Ford & Nichols in the City of Loudon, said in his closing statements that after Whitton honked his horn at Butcher, Butcher pulled to within about three feet of the car, noting that Whitton had a "split second" to respond to the alleged assault.
"People honk their horns all the time," Nichols said. "You don't expect to be attacked from it."
During his closing remarks, Harvey asked the jury if Butcher's golf cart was blocking the roadway, showing a diagram of the crime scene in which Butcher's golf cart is a few feet beside Whitton's car, adding that the defendant had shifted his car to park.
"He said, 'I've got plenty of time to interact with this fellow'," Harvey said. "'I'm going to put the car in park and see where this goes'."
Harvey also pointed to the testimony of forensic pathologist Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, who indicated earlier in the day that depending on a person's health, 15 seconds of choking would be enough time to cause either incapacitation or death. She said a lack of blood flow to the brain was one of the first symptoms of strangulation.
Whitton said during his police interview following the incident in 2010 that the reason he shot Butcher was because he could not breathe.
Mileusnic-Polchan testified that the windpipe was one of the most difficult parts of the neck to crush from stangulation.
"Norman Whitton had to have an excuse for why he pulled that trigger that would fly legally," Harvey told the jury.
Nichols pointed to evidence that Butcher's shirt had two bullet holes after the shooting, suggesting the shirt was folded at the time. He said that based on testimony earlier in the day from Mileusnic-Polchan, the bullet's trajectory pointed downward.
Mileusnic-Polchan said that after the autopsy on Butcher, she found that the bullet entered at 14 inches below the top of his head in front and became lodged in his back at 14.5 inches.
"Why is that shirt folded over?" Nichols asked. "Because he was leaning at the window. Why is that trajectory pointed down? Because he's leaning."
Nichols said that the autopsy and blood tests confirmed that the shooting took place at close range.
"He was right there," Nichols said, raising his voice near the end of his remarks.
"The standard of self-defense says simply, once evidence is presented of self-defense - and it has been - the burden is on the government, the state, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Norman Whitton did not act in self-defense."
Nichols said the prosecution "hasn't come close" to meeting its burden of proof requirements in the trial.
"It's not a tragedy that Norman Whitton under our law is to be held responsible for," Nichols said. "He has the right to defend himself."
For more details on the case, see the Sept. 23-24 edition of the News-Herald.
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