Opening statements differ on who is at fault for the death of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis

Prosecution says Stafford has history of excessive force; Defense says boy's father is at fault

All agree the event of Nov. 3, 2015 was a tragedy that should never have occurred. They disagree on why it happened and who is at fault.

The attorneys in the murder trial of Derrick Stafford presented their opening statements Monday, summarizing the main points they intend to make during the trial. The courtroom was full as the trial got underway.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Jonathan Goins said Stafford shot at the car driven by Christopher Few because he feared for his life and the lives of others. It was a tragedy that Few’s 6-year-old son, Jeremy Mardis, was killed in that incident, Goins said, but “the author of that young child’s fate, unfortunately, was his own father.”

Prosecutor Matthew Derbes walked the jurors through the events of Nov. 3, 2015, ending with a hail of bullets striking Few and the child as Few had his hands raised “in the universal sign of surrender.”

Derbes also told the jury that the shooting was the act of a man with a history of using excessive force as a law enforcement officer, and promised jurors would hear firsthand testimony of others who had encounters with Stafford as a police officer.

Stafford is charged with the 2nd degree murder of Jeremy Mardis and attempted 2nd degree murder of Few.

The 12 jurors and two alternates will not be isolated during the trial. 12th Judicial District Judge Billy Bennett instructed them not to discuss the case with anyone and not to read, view or listen to news accounts of the trial. They are to base their decision only on what they hear and see in court and not on outside sources and opinion, he said.

OPENING STATEMENTS

The opening statements took about an hour Monday morning, with Derbes taking 10 minutes to summarize the state’s case.

Goins took about 45 minutes, including five brief conferences with attorneys and Bennett to discuss prosecution objections.

The first objection was Goins’ recounting of the Bible story of King Solomon threatening to cut a baby in half to resolve a dispute between two mothers who both claimed the child. Bennett allowed Goins to continue with that line of thought, which was a main theme of his opening statement.

Bennett apparently sided with the prosecution on the other four interruptions since Goins changed course after each of those objections: discussing Few’s past brushes with the law; stating that Few should have been willing to run the risk of losing custody of his child by stopping for police officers and not running; description of Few’s driving that night as erratic and running people off the road; and saying the state objected to his opening statement because their case is weak.

The state began its case following the opening statements.

Defense witnesses will testify after the state rests its case, Bennett told the jurors. After that, the state will be able to call rebuttal witnesses if they choose to.

Closing arguments will be heard after all testimony is concluded. The state will go first, followed by the defense and then by any prosecution rebuttal.
There has been no official estimate as to how long the trial will go on.

For more on Monday’s opening statements and testimony, see this week’s Marksville Weekly News and Bunkie Record. Coverage of trial action Tuesday-Thursday will be included in the Avoyelles Journal and on the avoyellestoday.com website.

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