The Frontier: As Testimony Begins, Robert Bates Trial Hits A Few Snags

<p>When the first witness took the stand Wednesday, the majority of the media members covering the trial were locked out of the courtroom.</p>

Wednesday, April 20th 2016, 10:27 pm

By: News On 6

This is an abridged version of a story written by News On 6 partner, The Frontier’s Editor In Chief Ziva Branstetter. You can find her full story here.

During opening arguments in Robert Bates’ criminal trial Wednesday, prosecutors said Eric Harris “made a lifetime of bad decisions” but noted that Bates made some choices of his own the day he shot Harris.

“Mr. Bates made some choices to get to North Harvard. … He put a bullet in the back of Eric Harris and killed him,” said Assistant Tulsa County District Attorney Kevin Gray. 

Gray noted that Harris suffered a punctured lung after Bates shot him, in what he said was an accidental mixup of his Taser and gun.

Bates is being tried on a second-degree manslaughter charge in Harris’ death during an undercover gun sting April 2, 2015. 

Special Coverage: TCSO Reserve Deputy Shooting Controversy

Gray’s statements came during opening arguments after a jury was selected in Bates’ trial Wednesday. The 14-member jury (including two alternates) appears to be all white, with eight men and six women. Most of the jurors appear to be over 40 years old.

Though there were two black prospective jurors, they were all eliminated by defense attorneys for various reasons.

Bates’ defense attorney, Clark Brewster, said during opening arguments that Bates was helping the sheriff’s office as a member of the Drug Task Force.

Brewster reviewed Harris’ criminal record, which includes armed robbery, assault on a police officer and escape.  Harris had recently been released from prison before his death.

When Harris ran from undercover deputies moving in to arrest him, Brewster said Bates believed he needed to use his Taser to fully subdue Harris.

The defense plans to call expert witnesses to testify about the issue of stress on decision making and Harris’ cause of death. Brewster said Harris’ autopsy notes underlying heart issues, which he said were responsible for Harris’ death, not Bates’ .38-caliber bullet.

Deputy Lance Ramsey testified late Wednesday about the undercover operations that day. He said Bates called him the night before to ask “if something was going on the next day.”

Though the 73-year-old insurance executive’s name wasn’t listed on the operations plan for the gun sting, Ramsey said he was added to the group of nine deputies assigned to it. Ramsey said Bates’ job was to carry the “less lethal” weapons, including Tasers and pepper ball guns.

Harris’ family and all but one member of the media were locked out of Musseman’s courtroom for most of Ramsey’s testimony Wednesday.

Musseman has instituted a number of unusual rules, including that spectators (including relatives of the victim and defendant) who leave for any reason cannot return to the courtroom until a witness is finished testifying or jurors are taking a break.

Several members of the national media were excluded from the courtroom, including a crew from CNN and a reporter for Reuters.

Problems have also resulted because of limited seating in Musseman’s courtroom. He has said about 35 people can fit in the courtroom and many people have been turned away due to lack of space. Meanwhile, a large courtroom on a floor above the courtroom appeared to be available.


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