BY SHANNON PRATHER
Prosecutors wrapped up their case Tuesday against the man on trial for St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald Vick's killing with the accused's own words.
Jurors sat hushed, watching a videotaped interrogation of defendant Harry Evans recorded six hours after Vick's shooting death May 6, 2005. Evans repeatedly denies firing the shots, at one point saying, "I am not the bad guy at all."
In a move that means Evans won't have to take the stand for jurors to hear him proclaim his innocence, prosecutors played the tape after calling their final witness, lead police investigator Sgt. Steven Frazer, to the stand.
On the tape, Evans first questions why he has even been arrested as he smokes a cigarette in an interrogation room at police headquarters. Evans, on trial for first- and second-degree murder, is calm and polite throughout, calling the detective "Sir."
Frazer told jurors that despite Evans' denials, he remained the prime suspect, noting inconsistencies in his story. And when he pressed Evans, Evans admitted he was at the scene when the undercover officer was killed, but added neither he nor his friend Antonio Kelly pulled the trigger.
As the trial entered its third week, prosecutors finished piecing together the puzzle they promised in opening statements. Defense attorneys have tried to point out gaps in the state's case and portray Kelly as the killer.
The prosecution case is built on witness accounts including the testimony of Kelly and Vick's partner and traces of DNA found on the murder weapon that likely belonged to Evans. All the while, prosecutors portrayed Vick as a dedicated officer trying to clean up St. Paul's East Side. Vick and his partner, Sgt. Joseph Strong, were working undercover in Erick's Bar, investigating prostitution, when a confrontation with Kelly and Evans about public urination outside the East Seventh Street tavern turned violent.
The defense immediately called its first witnesses Tuesday in an effort to cast doubt on the prosecution's version of events and to show that Kelly could be the gunman. Kelly, 28, who denied knowing anything about the shooting during his first interviews with police, testified last week that Evans, 33, fired the shots in a dark alley near Erick's.
During cross-examination of the state's witnesses, Evans' defense lawyers also tried to tarnish the prosecution's image of the 41-year-old Vick as a fallen hero, repeatedly bringing up that Vick's 0.20 percent blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit for driving.
Evans and Kelly had been out drinking the night of Vick's shooting. Renee Devens, a bartender at Cab's Pub & Eatery, testified for the defense that she served Evans and Kelly drinks that evening. She described Evans as "polite" but said Kelly appeared high, was acting fidgety and had something tucked into his sock that appeared to be a weapon.
"He seemed super high. His jaw was moving in every direction. His eyes were bugging. He seemed a little sweaty," Devens testified.
At one point, Devens said, she was monitoring the rear entrance of the bar near the 1 a.m. closing time when Kelly grabbed her and tried to push her out the door. When she resisted, Kelly hiked his leg up. Devens said she noticed what appeared to be some sort of handle wrapped in black duct tape tucked into Kelly's sock.
"To me, it looked like a weapon," Devens testified. "It freaked me out."
Devens examined a photo of the revolver used to shoot Vick and said its taped handle resembled what she saw in Kelly's sock that night.
Fearing for her safety, Devens said, she walked behind the bar, and a security guard escorted Kelly out.
Days later after seeing news reports of Vick's arrest, Devens said, she tied the events together.
"I thought, 'Oh my God. What if I went out the door with him? What would have happened to me?' "
Under questioning from prosecutors, Devens acknowledged that she never called police. She didn't tell her story until a defense investigator questioned her in August. Devens said she feared for her safety.
She also acknowledged that what she saw was duct tape ? not the entire gun.
The defense also entered into evidence Vick's handgun and undercover holster found lying at the slain officer's feet. Prosecutors have said that Vick's loaded gun was found in its holster, most likely slipping out of his waistband as he fell to the ground. But the defense has countered that Vick may have drawn the gun still stuck in the slim holster that was clipped into his belt during the chase down the alley.
Defense lawyers are expected to call more witnesses today, but behind the scenes they are frantically searching for a witness who they told the jury during opening statements saw Kelly waving the gun hours before the shooting.
Rose Azaraih is supposed to testify that Evans and Kelly stopped by her apartment the night of the shooting. That's when she saw Kelly waving the gun. But defense attorneys indicated in court Tuesday that can't find Azaraih. There are outstanding warrants for her arrest on charges that include prostitution.
Shannon Prather can be reached at email@example.com (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) or 651-228-5452.