Brooks describes day of fatal shooting
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Jessie Brooks, on trial for manslaughter, took the stand Thursday to testify in his own defense. Step by step, he described the moments surrounding the shooting.
Brooks, 24, of Carbondale, testified for more than two hours Thursday, explaining to the jury his recollection of the events of April 2, 2003.
“Alcohol and guns is like drinking and driving, they’re both reckless and something that should never happen,” Brooks said at one point as he sat on the witness stand.
But alcohol and guns were mixed that night, with deadly results.
Brooks stands accused of accidentally shooting his friend, 23-year-old Bobby Rogers, in the head.
The shooting happened while Brooks and his fiancee, Lea Zugschwerdt, were moving into a townhome at 1360 Barber Drive in Carbondale.
Brooks is charged with reckless manslaughter, a class 4 felony. If convicted, he could serve two to six years in prison and be fined $2,000 to $500,000.
Prosecutors contend that Brooks recklessly caused Rogers’ death because he didn’t check to be sure his .22-caliber handgun was unloaded.
The defense contends that the gun was cocked and loaded by Rogers sometime during the night, not by Brooks, and that Rogers was actually holding the trigger when the gun was fired.
While Brooks was on the stand Thursday, he painted a verbal picture of Rogers as a somewhat troubled young man who had just been released from jail that day on a drunken driving, car theft, reckless endangerment and assault charges.
He said Rogers was constantly pushing people, grabbing them, tripping them and doing physical things to get attention.
“In all respect for my friend, he was crazy. I felt like I was always baby-sitting,” Brooks testified. “He was just a rough, rowdy, loud kind of kid. … He was a physical person, ornery.”
Brooks recalled an incident that night when Rogers bit Nathan Paullin, another man who was present the night of the shooting.
At some point during the day, Brooks said Rogers began playing with the .22-caliber gun. He also said Rogers “started rolling around on the floor like Mel Gibson and dry-firing it.”
After Rogers was done dry-firing the gun, which means to pull the trigger with no ammunition, Brooks said his friend began to “field strip” the gun, or take it apart.
Brooks said Rogers then tried to put the gun back together, but didn’t know how.
“So I put it back together,” he said, “and put on the safety.”
Brooks next testified that he then placed the gun, in its case, on top of the refrigerator. He was sure it was unloaded because he had just put it back together and had checked to see if it was loaded.
“I know it wasn’t loaded,” Brooks said.
Brooks said he was positive the gun was unloaded for several reasons:
First, Rogers dry-fired it several times while playing with it.
Second, Brooks himself reassembled the gun, checked for any ammunition, saw none, then put on the safety and put the gun on top of the refrigerator.
“I put it back together, so I know it wasn’t loaded,” he testified.
Later that night, Brooks said, he was about to grab a beer from the refrigerator. That’s when he saw Rogers with “this mischievous look.” This was just moments before the shooting.
“He came and grabbed me. He just came up sideways and grabbed me with his right arm around my neck,” Brooks testified.
Next, Brooks said Rogers pushed the .22-caliber pistol against Brooks’ cheek.
“He reached around my head and had a gun in my face,” he said.
Brooks then testified that he put his left arm around Rogers’ neck.
“I told him, ‘What have I told you about playing with my guns,'” Brooks said.
Brooks then said he grabbed Rogers’ hand that clutched the gun and pushed both the hand and gun away.
“I kind of leaned back and got the gun away,” Brooks said.
The gun wound up next to Rogers’ head.
“I heard a noise, I heard a shot,” he said. “It was muffled. It didn’t sound like it was supposed to sound. I heard it, but it didn’t sound like a gunshot to me.”
Rogers slumped to the ground.
“I just remember seeing him fall. I thought he was kidding around because we were fooling around,” Brooks said.
Once he realized what happened, Brooks said he “couldn’t fathom it.”
Although on the night of the shooting he told police investigators that he felt responsible, Brooks testified Thursday, “I didn’t pull the trigger.”
He also said he didn’t know the gun was loaded.
Ninth District Attorney Mac Myers pointed out differences in Brooks’ original interview with police shortly after the shooting and statements he made on the stand Thursday.
Myers asked Brooks why he told police he had consumed six beers by 5 p.m. that day, yet he testified Thursday that he only drank one by that time.
Brooks testified that he said that because he thought investigators were asking how much he drank the entire night.
Myers also pointed out differences in how Brooks explained the wrestling just before the gunshot.
According to the police statement, Myers said, Brooks had Rogers bent at the waist in a headlock. But while on the stand Thursday, Brooks said his arm was around Rogers’ neck like someone would put their arm around a friend, with both men standing up straight.
Brooks also told Myers he didn’t know how the gun wound up on the kitchen counter after the shot was fired.
After the defense was through presenting its case, 9th District Judge T. Peter Craven informed the jury that Rogers’ blood alcohol level at the time of death was 0.232 ” more than twice the legal limit for driving. Brooks’ blood alcohol level was 0.037, in a test given 10 hours after the shooting.
Around 3 p.m. Thursday, the jury was discharged. The trial will reconvene Monday morning. The prosecution and defense are expected to make their closing statements and the jury could begin deliberating.
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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