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Verdict in Montgomery trial answers few questions


The trial is over, but things still don't quite add up.

Last week, a jury convicted Demetrius Montgomery of first-degree murder in the killing of two police officers. But did he act alone? For more than three years, I've waited for an answer to that question, but the trial just left me with more questions — so did the evidence that wasn't presented at trial.

I'm not the first to question if Montgomery acted alone. In the first 24 hours after the murders, police seemed convinced he didn't. I was a part of NewsTalk 1110 WBT radio's coverage of the murders, which ran straight through that weekend. Police captains and even the chief repeatedly said in interviews that there were two suspects. They seemed convinced. They asked for the public's help catching them.

The second suspect in the murders was "about 5 feet 9 inches," wore a red shirt and "ran through the apartment complex towards Milton Road."

That's how he was described by police in a transcript of police radio traffic after the shooting obtained by Creative Loafing. Montgomery wore a torn white T-shirt when he was arrested. At a press conference a day later, police announced they were only interviewing one suspect. That's it. No explanation. The jury never heard one either. Were the police initially mistaken, despite their repeated insistence that there was a second suspect? Did they get bad information? Why were they initially so convinced that two people did this? Who or what later convinced them otherwise?

A good defense team would have teased out these answers, but Montgomery's didn't.

No one saw the actual shooting. Timber Ridge residents weren't overly forthcoming about what happened, either. After the murders, officers kept witnesses handcuffed for hours. They kicked in doors in the hours and days after the shooting, which enraged the community to the point that it made local headlines. The officers' actions were understandable and probably even necessary, but relations between the police and witnesses remained so mangled that witnesses changed their stories on the witness stand three years later, admitting to seeing much more than they initially told officers they did.

Since Montgomery won't talk, is it possible that police had no way to know for certain what actually happened?

In court, the prosecution presented a gun with officer Shelton's DNA on it and other DNA that was likely Montgomery's. (The chances that the DNA resembling Montgomery's belonged to somebody else are 1 in 2.6 million, an expert told The Charlotte Observer.) A ballistics expert testified that the gun was used to kill the officers. Witnesses claim they saw Montgomery running with a gun after the killing.

That's damning. There's no doubt that Montgomery is where he belongs — in prison for the rest of his life, convicted of first-degree murder. But what about the third set of DNA on the gun? The defense didn't seriously question it in court. Bruce Steen, the jury foreman in the case, said the DNA report the jury saw didn't say whose DNA it was. Was it submitted for testing? Steen couldn't remember what the report said about that. (The report remains unavailable to the public.)

Even more confusing, there was no DNA or fingerprint from anyone on the trigger.

And what about Octavious Elmore, who bears a striking resemblance to Montgomery? Police Detective Arvin Fant lost or destroyed his notes from his interview with a jail inmate who claimed Elmore told him he killed the officers. The loss of the notes was a serious enough problem that Judge Forrest Bridges took the death penalty off the table and Fant may be facing criminal charges. Bridges barred the defense from telling the jurors why the death penalty was taken off the table. In an even more bizarre twist, when Montgomery was captured soon after the shooting, he had gun shot residue on him, indicating that he had recently fired a weapon, but no blood. (An expert testified in court that it was possible that Montgomery could have escaped with no gun spatter.)

Or maybe there is no phantom second suspect. Maybe a relative of Montgomery's left DNA on the gun while cleaning house. Perhaps the Elmore angle is nothing more than jailhouse gossip run amok.

I'd love to know. Hopefully some day we will.

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