Troopers testify in Munday trial

October 24, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Sgt. Eric Burnett spoke haltingly as he testified Thursday about what happened on the night of Oct. 10, 2002, when his best friend, fellow West Virginia State Trooper R.J. "Bobby" Elswick, was shot once in the head.

After a confrontation with an armed man on that dark, rainy night, Burnett dropped to his stomach and saw and heard a gunshot. Then, he said, he heard a gurgling sound a few feet to his left.

Crawling over, Burnett found Elswick lying facedown on the ground.

"He was hurt pretty bad. He just couldn't talk," Burnett testified.

With his left arm, Elswick reached up and put his arm around the back of his best friend's head, pulling Burnett down to him, Burnett said.


It was then, while trying to comfort his friend, that Burnett used his radio to call Signal 5 - a rarely-used code that means an officer is injured, he said.

Burnett was one of several people to testify in the trial of David Eugene Munday, 38, of Hedgesville, W.Va.

Munday faces 28 felony and misdemeanor counts related to the shooting and events that led to it. Charges include two counts of breaking and entering, one count of kidnapping, six counts of wanton endangerment with a firearm and four counts of attempted murder.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Robert Barrat read aloud from a statement Burnett wrote not long after the shooting. In the statement, Burnett indicated that he heard a gunshot, looked up and saw a flash.

Gunshots happen so quickly, Barrat said, that he did not understand how that could be possible.

When he gave the statement, Burnett said, he was sitting in the hospital by Elswick's bed, tubes were in Elswick's throat and his head was swollen to the size of a watermelon.

While writing the statement, Burnett was crying his eyes out, he testified.

Trooper Robert Copson also was called to the stand. Copson said he, Elswick, Burnett and Trooper John Droppleman were standing along Harper Lane, discussing how to handle a possible hostage situation, when Burnett said he saw someone coming.

Copson turned around and saw Munday raise a rifle, he testified. Although the officers identified themselves as state troopers and ordered Munday to drop the weapon, he refused and fired once, Copson said.

Copson said he returned fire, shooting his handgun three times. He and Droppleman then chased Munday through a nearby wooded area and were able to handcuff him.

Barrat referred to Copson's written statement, in which Copson indicated that Munday started yelling and that Copson began shooting.

Barrat asked Copson why, in the two-page statement, he did not mention that Munday fired first.

Copson replied that he gave the statement shortly after a fellow trooper was shot and that while writing he focused on his actions.

Other witnesses who testified included Dr. Brian Holmes, a neurosurgeon at Washington County Hospital. Using a projector, Holmes showed the jury X-rays of Elswick's brain. Pieces of the bullet and of Elswick's skull remain lodged in Elswick's brain, Holmes said.

Psychologist Nina Shinaberry, who interviewed Munday in May at the state's request, diagnosed him as having an alcohol and a marijuana dependence problem, an antisocial personality disorder and bipolar two, which is not as severe as bipolar one.

Shinaberry disagreed with a social worker who examined Munday at the defense's request and who diagnosed Munday as having post-traumatic stress disorder. Shinaberry said she has examined people with PTSD and that Munday did not exhibit several symptoms associated with the disorder, including significant anxiety, hypervigilence, an exaggerated startled response or intrusive thoughts of the event which supposedly triggered the disorder.

Munday told her that on the night of Oct. 10, he was trying to commit "suicide by cop," Shinaberry said.

Munday previously had tried to commit suicide but couldn't follow through because he is Catholic, Shinaberry said. He'd tried hanging himself and also had built a bomb, but dismantled it before blowing himself up, she said. He also had once before tried to provoke police to kill him and had tried to convince a woman to shoot him, Shinaberry said.

In her conclusion, Shinaberry said she determined that Munday knew the difference between right and wrong and that he had the ability that night to conform his behavior to the law.

Also called to the stand were Johnny and Sandra Lambert and Sandra Lambert's daughter, Megan Boyce, a sophomore in high school.

All three gave slightly different accounts of what happened before the shooting.

Johnny Lambert said he occasionally smoked marijuana and drank beer with Munday, but that he had one beer that night. After Lambert's wife and Munday's girlfriend, Connie Harrison, went to a nearby convenience store, Munday became agitated, he said.

Harrison called police from the store because she said Munday had hit her, according to testimony.

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