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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hastings trial — closing arguments this morning

Posted By on Sat, Jun 22, 2013 at 8:16 AM

I'm going back to the courthouse this morning to listen to the closings on the Josh Hastings trial — the LRPD officer who was charged with manslaughter after killing a 15 year old Bobby Moore as Moore tried to flee after breaking into cars at an apartment complex in West Little Rock. It should be to the jury by lunch. Hopefully, we'll have a verdict before dark.

Hastings says that in August 2012, Moore drove a Honda Civic at him in an attempt to run him over while fleeing from Shadow Lakes Apartments, where Hastings had been dispatched to a report of car break ins. Hastings said the Honda narrowly missed him after he fired three shots into the car, striking Moore twice, once in the head, which a forensic pathologist said would have been a "crumple shot" that killed him instantly. Hastings said that after continuing past him, the car rolled up onto a rock-covered slope, lingered long enough for him to see Bobby Moore lying slumped inside the car, rolled back off the slope, and then coasted backwards into a parked car over 100 feet away.

When the LRPD searched the rock slope and looked at the damage to the Honda, however, they found no evidence that the car had been driven up onto that slope, which features sunk-in granite boulders, some the size of dinner plates. An engineer who prepared a report for the prosecution would later testify that in addition to the curb, some of the rocks at the curb line where Hastings said the car jumped the curb and mounted the slope — a 33 degree incline — were as much as 13 inches higher than the pavement. The Honda Moore was driving, fully loaded, was around 4-1/2 inches off the pavement at the front air dam, and yet the car showed only what the engineer described as "road rash" from concrete parking stops on the front bumper, and no damage consistent with a heavy rock impact on the exhaust, floorboards, plastic radiator undershroud or aluminum rims. The same engineer/accident reconstructionist said the slope showed no evidence of rocks being disturbed, scraping to the rocks, paint or rubber transfer, etc.

A defense expert — a former Arkansas State Trooper — did testify that he believed the car could have driven up the slope, but when he tried to do it with an identical test car at 13 miles an hour — just over half of how fast Josh Hastings testified he believed the car Bobby Moore was going when it came at him and mounted the curb — the test car hit rocks, disturbed rocks and left paint and rubber transfer. As seen in a video shown in court yesterday, when defense accident reconstructionist Dale Donham tried to drive up the slope in that identical Honda, the car didn't roll back. Instead, it had to be put in reverse to be dislodged from the rocks. Later investigation found that the test car left plentiful sign that it had gone there: marks on rocks, rubber transfer, disturbed rocks, scratches to the car's bumper and undercarriage, etc.

The prosecution's claim is what the two teens who were in the car that night with Bobby Moore testified to: that Bobby Moore saw Hastings, came to a complete stop or almost to stop, and was looking back so he could put the car in reverse and flee when Hastings shot. One of the bullets entered Bobby Moore's head just above the left ear, which would seem to be consistent with someone looking back over his shoulder to drive backward, though the defense said the head twisting could have been a result of Moore jerking backwards after being shot in the finger and chest.

Josh Hastings stated that he was 1-2 feet off the curb when he shot, with the car 5 feet from him. As the prosecution pointed out, at 25-30 miles an hour, the speed Hastings initially told investigators after the shooting, he would have had less than 1/4 of a second to fire three shots, two of them accurate, then get out of the way without being struck. In order for his account to be correct, the car would have also had to travel up the slope, leaving minimal damage to the car and no apparent transfer of materials to the rocks, and then roll back down.

I'm not a jury member. I'm not on that panel, and the only proof that I was impartial the day I walked in there is me telling you that I walked in there not caring one way or the other which way it went. No matter whether Josh Hastings is found guilty or not guilty, his life will be irrevocably changed, and Bobby Moore's life is ended. I will tell you, however, that while the testimony of Bobby Moore's friends proved they were out that night looking for things to steal from sleeping people, the testimony of engineer and accident reconstructionist John Bentley was very compelling. After hearing both the defense and prosecution reconstructionists and the rest of the testimony in the case, I personally don't believe that car ever traveled up that slope.

And so, what you are left with this morning is this question: Did the car go up on the slope as Officer Hastings said it did? Because if it didn't, then that means the car was stopped or slowed almost to a stop when he fired. Physics is physics, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, and a car going 25 miles an hour and aimed at Officer Hastings standing 1-2 feet off the curbline would have to have gone up that slope.

If you don't believe the car went up that slope, then you have to believe that the car was, in fact, stopped or slowing to a stop when Hastings fired. And if you believe that, then you have to believe there was no threat to Josh Hastings that required Bobby Moore's life to be ended. And if you believe that, then Officer Hastings firing into that car with the intent to kill was an unreasonable act, and therefore reckless. And taking another person's life with a reckless act is, as I understand it, the definition of manslaughter.

I'm not saying that any of those things are true. I'm saying that's what the jury will have to decide today. I don't envy them.

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