Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Monica Lara
Jury deliberation is expected to begin next week for Ojai defendant, John Atkinson, 34, who is on trial at the Ventura County Superior Court for allegedly attempting to murder a police officer in 2010.
Thursday, both the defense and prosecution rested their cases, and the court prepared to have closing arguments Monday, after which the jury would start deliberations.
Defense lawyer Rebekah Mathis of the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office expects the jury could reach a decision the following day. “I expect a verdict or a lack of verdict to be reached by Tuesday,” she said.
Atkinson is facing conviction of charges including attempted murder, second-degree robbery, and two counts of abuse of elders.
Several additional allegations, or enhancement felony offenses, could add to his sentence, if convicted. Use of a deadly weapon, assault on a peace officer and assault with a taser or stun gun are included in the allegations.
Atkinson allegedly attempted to murder Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Traci Salmon Dec. 10, 2010. The incident occurred when Salmon responded, alone, to a hang-up 911 call at a house on the 4900 block of Casitas Pass Road. The house belonged the parents of Atkinson, who was 31 at the time. He is suspected of having been abusing his parents at the time of the call.
Allegedly, he got violent when Salmon approached the front door of the property, and fought and gained control of her taser, gun and radio, and caused several injuries to Salmon while using her weapons on her. She was able to shoot him in the leg and get away to call for help.
Atkinson has been in custody at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office with a $1 million bail.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Richard Simon, the prosecutor, called his witnesses first during the trial including Salmon.
During the alleged struggle between Salmon and Atkinson, she was able to fire multiple rounds from her gun before hitting him in the leg. Then the gun jammed, according to Salmon. She proceeded to eject the round that did not fire from the gun.
Atkinson allegedly took Salmon’s gun, pointed it at her face and pulled the trigger, according to her testimony. The gun did not fire a bullet when Atkinson pulled the trigger, but she said she could hear the gun click.
A focus of the trial included the defense and the prosecution providing evidence on whether Atkinson tried to fire the gun.
Ventura County Detective Jose Lopez, who interviewed Atkinson immediately after the incident, was called to the stand on Tuesday. Audio and video recordings of the interviews were shown in court. His interrogation toward the end was focused on whether Atkinson pulled the trigger.
Several times Atkinson answered that he did not want to hurt Salmon.
“I took the gun away from her, she got up and ran out the door,” Atkinson said during the interview.
“I did not pull the trigger,” he said later. After continuously answering in the same way, he then agreed to a question where pulling the trigger was part of what happened in the incident.
The defense began calling its witnesses on Wednesday finalizing its list with Charles Wiggins, senior investigator for the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office. Wiggins testified as a gun expert, explaining the difference between a misfire and a jammed gun, and audio effects of hearing a gun go off at close proximity.
“You do hear a ringing in your ears and it’s hard to hear anything else but the ringing,” Wiggins said.
He explained a misfire is when an empty casing of a bullet remains in the chamber, but the gun continues to function properly. When the trigger is pulled the slide will still click against the firing pin. Clearing the casing, as Salmon did, would rack another live round into the chamber and should fire, according to Wiggins. With a jammed gun, he continued, there would be something causing the gun to malfunction so when a person pulled the trigger the slide would not click against the firing pin. Clearing the gun may not clear the jam.
“It would be a dead trigger,” Wiggins said. “There would be no movement.”
Both the defense and the prosecution rested following Wiggins’s testimony.
Simon will lead off on closing arguments at about 10 a.m. Monday.