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Jenkins' wife takes stand during his murder trial

August 30, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

John Jenkins wouldn't spank his children, did not want to complain when his pickup truck was damaged by a lumber yard employee and couldn't bear to turn away from those in need, his wife testified Monday at his murder trial.

Becky Jenkins was called as a character witness to talk about her husband of 151/2 years, who is charged with murder in the April 12, 2002, shooting death of his cousin, Steven Cole.

John W. Jenkins Jr., 38, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., is charged with shooting Cole four or five times either inside or near the cab of his truck on Goldmiller Road in Bunker Hill, a short distance north of the Virginia state line.

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His trial began last week and is scheduled to continue today.

"Johnny and I have had a lot of disagreements about how he treats people. The panhandlers on the street, he stops every time. The same panhandlers, he gives them money," Becky Jenkins said.

He also constantly brought home stray pets, she said.

Becky Jenkins said she and her husband have two children, a 10-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. She testified that she has never seen her husband threaten anyone or become involved in a physical confrontation.

"Johnny is completely nonviolent, in any way. (He) avoids any confrontation at all," she said.

Becky Jenkins said on April 12, 2002, she had gone to her parents' house, where she and her husband and their children intended to eat dinner.

John Jenkins called at around 5:30 p.m., saying that there had been an accident, a struggle and that Cole had been injured, Becky Jenkins testified.

He said that police were letting him use a phone and that Cole was being taken away in an ambulance; he said he'd call later so his wife could pick him up, Becky Jenkins said.

Jenkins said she went home and later received two phone calls from Cole's brother. During the second call, Cole's brother said that Cole was dead and that John Jenkins had murdered him, Becky Jenkins testified.

After throwing the phone down, Becky Jenkins said she backed into a closet and started to cry. She said when she called the Frederick County (Va.) Sheriff's Department to speak to her husband, his voice was shaky and that he was crying - only the second time in their marriage that she had known him to cry.

She said her husband did not yet know of Cole's condition.

"I couldn't tell him that he was dead," Becky Jenkins said.

Twenty-one days later, she said, her husband was released on bail and allowed to come home.

He was in therapy for about a year, she said.

"It bothers him every day," Becky Jenkins said.

As his wife testified, John Jenkins watched her, sometimes lowering his head and dabbing at his eyes.

Other witnesses were called to testify about Jenkins' nonviolent nature, along with Cole's reputation as a bully.

Bernard Lewis, a Winchester, Va.-based forensic psychologist, compiled a report on Jenkins' potential for aggression at the request of Jenkins' attorneys.

He said he concluded Jenkins was at a substantially lower risk than the average man to initiate aggression.

On the commonly administered MMPI-2 test, aggressiveness is indicated with a score of 1 percent to 100 percent, with 100 percent indicating the highest level of aggression.

Jenkins scored a 16 percent, Lewis said.

On the anger scale of that same test, Jenkins scored an 8 percent, meaning 92 percent of men show more anger than Jenkins, Lewis said.

Cole was shot in his upper lip, behind his left ear and in his back; another bullet grazed his abdomen and became lodged in his right elbow, police have said.

The wound to the center of Cole's back, which exited near his left armpit, was the fatal wound, according to testimony from Dr. Aleksandar Milovanovic, formerly the assistant chief medical examiner in northern Virginia.

At dispute is whether a wound in front of Cole's left ear was caused by a bullet or a claw hammer found in the truck.

If that wound was caused by a fifth bullet, it would contradict Jenkins' statements that Cole fired first and that he fired the last bullet into the road to empty the gun.

The gun, a Western-style single-action revolver, held only six bullets, according to testimony.

After the shooting, Jenkins drove to Virginia to go to Winchester (Va.) Medical Center, according to taped statements Jenkins made to police.

Cole jumped out of the pickup truck at an intersection in White Hall, Va., screaming that he had been shot; an employee of a small convenience store at the intersection called 911, witnesses said.

Larry Dehus, a forensic scientist hired by Jenkins' attorneys to review the evidence in the case, said he believes all of the shots were fired at close range inside the truck's cab.

The muzzle of the gun was no more than 14 inches away from Cole when it was fired, Dehus said. It's possible the wound to Cole's back occurred as the men struggled to gain control of the gun, as Jenkins has maintained, Dehus said.

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