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Jury in murder trial hears statement tape

August 24, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

In a tape-recorded statement given to police, a man charged in the shooting death of his cousin never gave a clear account of what happened, changed his story about how many times he shot the gun and contradicted himself about when and how he gained control of the .22-caliber Magnum handgun.

The 29-minute tape was played Tuesday during the first day of a jury trial for John W. Jenkins Jr., of Bunker Hill, W.Va., who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Steven Cole, 37, of Martinsburg.

The shooting happened in the cab of Jenkins' pickup truck on April 12, 2002, on Goldmiller Road near the Virginia state line.

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Jenkins, 38, sat with a hand covering his mouth as the tape was played, leaning over to read a typed transcript of the interview.

The interview was conducted as Jenkins sat in the back seat of a police cruiser at the intersection of Apple Pie Ridge Road and White Hall Road in White Hall, Va., Deputy James Galbreath, with the Frederick County (Va.) Sheriff's Office, testified.

At that intersection, Cole jumped from the passenger seat of the pickup truck and screamed that he had been shot, two witnesses testified.

He later died after being taken to Winchester (Va.) Medical Center.

During the interview, Jenkins told Galbreath, who was questioning him, that Cole had grabbed the gun from beneath a stack of papers as they were heading toward West Virginia. It had been on the truck's seat between them, he said.

Jenkins said he told Cole to be careful because the gun was loaded. Cole responded, "I know," cocked the hammer and fired it once, Jenkins said.

Asked whether he was able to gain control of the gun, Jenkins first said "eventually," but that it was empty by then.

Seconds later, he said in the interview that he got the gun, pointed it at Cole's midsection and pulled the trigger.

"I was just trying to protect myself," he said in the interview.

He said he pulled the trigger two or three times, but later said it might have been three or four times, a statement immediately followed by an admission that he shot three consecutive times.

Later during the interview, Jenkins said he had grabbed the butt of the gun, but that Cole still was holding part of it and they were each struggling to gain control of the gun.

As the tape was playing, Galbreath occasionally looked at Jenkins and shook his head.

Jenkins' attorney, Kevin Mills, told jurors during his opening statement that the shooting was in self-defense.

"What happened on April the 12th of 2002, the evidence will show you, was not a crime," he said.

Mills described Jenkins as a decent, peaceful family man who reacted to having a gun pointed at his head. Cole, meanwhile, was "a tough guy" and a "gangster-type," Mills told the jurors.

"What John Jenkins did that day was reasonable," he said.

A jury of nine women and three men is hearing the case.

The first witness to testify was Shannon Lockhart, of Winchester, Va., who was on her way to pick up her daughter from school when she saw Cole jump from the cab of the truck.

Cole stood up and was hanging onto the side of the truck. He yelled, "Help me. Call an ambulance. He shot me in the head," Lockhart said.

Cole later fell to the ground in the middle of the intersection and continued to yell that he had been shot, Lockhart testified.

She said the driver of the pickup truck dragged Cole out of the road.

Kimberly Mullins testified that she was working at a small convenience store at the intersection when someone came into the store and said to call 911 because a man was down in the middle of the road.

She said she called 911 a second time to tell them the man had been shot. Mullins testified that she saw a gunshot wound on Cole's back.

During cross-examination, Mullins said Jenkins tried to comfort Cole, and folded up his shirt to use as a pillow beneath Cole's head. Jenkins told Cole to lay still because help was on the way, Mullins testified.

Deputy Ricky Brill, with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, said that when he arrived shortly after the 3:25 p.m. shooting, two men were leaning over a man on the ground. Brill said he pointed a shotgun at them both and asked, "Who shot him?"

Jenkins replied, "I guess that's me. I shot him," according to Brill.

Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely told the jury during her opening statement that Cole was shot five times.

An autopsy report indicates that Cole had gunshot wounds to his face, back, arm and abdomen.

Games-Neely said an argument over money preceded the shooting.

In the taped statement, Jenkins said that Cole asked him about money, but that he replied he did not owe Cole any money.

Richard Ellinger, previously an investigator with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, said he interviewed Jenkins about four or five hours after the shooting - after Jenkins gave the tape-recorded statement.

During that interview, which Jenkins would not allow to be recorded, Jenkins said that he owed Cole $1,050 for 20 hours of work, Ellinger said.

Jenkins owned a contracting business.

At some point as the gun was being fired, Jenkins stopped his truck two-tenths of a mile north of the state line on Goldmiller Road, police said. There, Cole got out or fell out of the truck, but was put back into the cab by Jenkins, police said.

Jenkins said during the interview with Ellinger that he intended to drive Cole to the hospital.

Ellinger said that Jenkins was cooperative, but added that he did not believe what Jenkins had told him.

Galbreath, who conducted the tape-recorded statement, also said he was skeptical.

"I'm not quite sure of the accuracy of the answers," he testified.

Jenkins is free on bond. His trial was scheduled to resume today.

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