OXFORD, Miss. – Testimony in the trial of a Pontotoc man accused of murdering a Tippah County law enforcement officer began on Tuesday. Prosecutors say Franklin Fitzpatrick shot Deputy Sheriff DeWayne Crenshaw on December 3, 2010 while Crenshaw and Deputy Rodney Callahan were trying to subdue him. Fitzpatrick is charged with capital murder.
Due to heavy publicity in Northeast Mississippi around the case, the jury was brought in from Attala County. Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth has barred blogging from the courtroom about witness testimony in order to stem the pollution of the jury with prejudice.
District Attorney Ben Creekmore urged the jury to “bring your good common sense with you to this trial,” adding that the evidence can only point to the defendant.
Defense attorney Josh Turner began early to raise doubts about key prosecution theories. Offering no offsetting theories, he urged nonetheless, “I want you to concentrate on corroboration.”
Prosecution witness Matt Thrasher said Fitzpatrick accompanied Joani Clifton, a mutual friend, to Thrasher’s rural dwelling. He said they took drugs, including then-legal bath salts, until Fitzpatrick started sweating profusely, acting strangely and hitting him.
Thrasher said Fitzpatrick and Clifton drove away but soon returned, and Fitzpatrick resumed beating him. After escaping a second time, Thrasher said he went to his parents’ house a few yards away but called 911 after he could not rouse his parents to help – just after 4 a.m., according to E-911 dispatcher Ralph Simmons. One unexplained discrepancy was that Thrasher identified himself as his brother to the 911 operator.
Clifton said after realizing Fitzpatrick was still violent she locked herself in her truck. When Deputy Rodney Callahan was first to arrive, she watched in her rearview mirror as he, then he and Crenshaw, struggled to subdue the much-larger Fitzpatrick.
Callahan said when he heard the two gunshots he first thought Crenshaw had shot Fitzpatrick and that he then pushed the suspect away and reached for his service pistol, only to find an empty holster. He added that both his Taser and his handcuffs came loose from his duty belt during the fight.
Assistant District Attorney Kelly Luther helped show the position in which Callahan believes Fitzpatrick grabbed Callahan’s gun and shot Crenshaw twice.
“We were all three in a big wad,” Callahan said.
(With reporting from Errol Castens: http://goo.gl/cyxkj)