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Experts shed light on events leading up to man's death

August 26, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Steven Cole was shot directly at least three times, but it was a gunshot wound to the center of his back that killed him April 12, 2002, a former Virginia medical examiner testified Thursday.

That bullet, which exited Cole's body on his chest near his left armpit, "took" one of his lungs, testified Dr. Aleksandar Milovanovic, formerly the assistant chief medical examiner in northern Virginia.

Milovanovic was one of six witnesses to testify on the third day of the Berkeley County trial for John W. Jenkins Jr., 38, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., who is charged with murder in the death of Cole, his cousin.

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Jenkins has maintained he shot Cole in self-defense after Cole, 37, of Martinsburg, pulled a gun on him during an argument over money.

The shooting happened on Goldmiller Road, just north of the Virginia state line. Cole jumped out of the truck at an intersection in White Hall, Va., and died after being taken to Winchester (Va.) Medical Center, police said.

Jenkins has told police he was trying to drive his cousin to the hospital, according to statements entered into evidence.

Milovanovic said that along with the shot in his back, Cole was shot once in the center of his upper lip. That bullet fractured Cole's jaw and his teeth, Milovanovic said.

Cole also had a direct gunshot wound just behind his left ear. That bullet did not penetrate or fracture his skull, Milovanovic said.

Cole had grazing wounds to his inside right elbow, with the same bullet also likely causing a graze wound to his lower abdomen near his hip, Milovanovic said.

At dispute is a wound just in front of Cole's left ear. Milovanovic said he believes it was also a graze gunshot wound, but one of Jenkins' attorneys, Kevin Mills, asked whether it could have been caused by being hit with a hammer.

After Milovanovic was shown a claw hammer found in the back seat of Jenkins' Chevrolet pickup truck, he agreed that it possibly could have caused the wound.

"Powder tattooing," or small grains of unburned or burned gunpowder emitted with a bullet, indicate the bullets to Cole's head were fired at close range, Milovanovic said. The black specks of powder were visible on Cole's face and left ear, he said.

Whether the wound to Cole's back was from a gun being fired at close range could not be determined because a T-shirt and sweatshirt Cole was wearing prevented "powder tattooing" evidence on his skin, Milovanovic said.

It is impossible to determine the sequence of the wounds, Milovanovic said, saying the wound behind Cole's ear could have been the first time he was shot, or could have been the last time.

Lt. Rodger Reed, head of the firearm and toolmark section of the West Virginia State Police Crime Lab, testified about the gun used in the shooting.

The .22-caliber, six-shot Magnum revolver is a single-action gun, Reed said, meaning the trigger cannot be pulled unless the hammer is first cocked.

The hammer must be cocked each time a shooter wants to pull the trigger, he said.

Testimony ended after a nearly two-hour video deposition of Dr. Henry Lee - a criminalist known for his testimony during the O.J. Simpson case - was played for the jury.

About a year after the shooting, Lee was retained by Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely to review photographs and reports connected to the case.

He did not examine any of the evidence in person.

Lee said he believes most or all of the shots were fired outside of the pickup truck on Goldmiller Road. He used as evidence photographs of large amounts of blood on the road, compared with smaller amounts of blood inside the truck.

No high-velocity blood spatter was found inside the truck's cab to indicate someone was shot inside the truck, Lee said.

After the taped deposition had been playing in the darkened courtroom for more than an hour, at least one juror yawned and others closed their eyes. One juror appeared to be nodding off.

Near the end of the interview, Lee said his conclusion was that Cole, after being shot, was running away and possibly being chased.

On the tape, Mills could be heard asking Lee how he could be sure it was not Cole who was chasing Jenkins.

"If I get shot five times I don't chase (the shooter)," Lee replied, causing some in the courtroom to laugh.

Jurors were scheduled to resume hearing the case Monday.

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