Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TOP STORY >> Allen’s excuse admissable

Leader staff writer

A statement in which the Jacksonville man charged with the first-degree murder of Fire Capt. Donald (Donnie) Jones blames the incident on a malfunctioning gas pedal will be presented as evidence at his January trial.

A motion from the defense to suppress the statement was denied at a pre-trial hearing Monday afternoon.

The trial for Bryce Allen Jr., 47, is set to start at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 28 in Courtroom 220 at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock. It could be held through Jan. 30.

He has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

Allen’s statement, written the night of the March 2012 incident, claims that he was using cruise control and the accelerator was stuck when he allegedly ran over Jones, firefighter Jason Bowmaster and police officer Daniel DiMatteo with his van at 8411 S. Hwy. 161.

Jones, a 31-year-veteran of the department, was the first Jacksonville firefighter to be killed in the line of duty.

Bowmaster and DiMatteo were seriously injured.

According to a police report, the investigation showed that Allen made no attempt to brake — as he claimed in the statement — when he drove around emergency vehicles, accelerated before hitting the three men and appeared to be aiming toward them.

Deputy public defender Cheryl Barnard argued that the statement was taken before her client was read his Miranda rights and while he was in de facto custody. She said, while he wasn’t handcuffed, Allen wasn’t free to leave either.

Sgt. Robert Slash, the first to arrive at the fatal accident, testified that Allen was not a suspect when he was asked to fill out the statement. He didn’t need to be read his Miranda rights, according to deputy prosecuting attorney Melanie Martin.

The sergeant also said that he would have pursued Allen if he had left the scene.

The three men who were hit had been responding to the scene of a single-vehicle accident involving Allen’s mother, Thelma. She struck a gas main but was not hurt.

Slash testified that Thelma Allen and another man at the scene filled out statements and were not read their Miranda rights.

The sergeant also described arriving at the scene after the first responders were hit. Slash testified that, at first, he assumed he was responding to an accident with injuries, not a homicide.

Slash said he saw DiMatteo first. The officer was lying on the ground near a patrol car.

DiMatteo said he was badly injured but the firefighters were worse and needed to be taken care of first, according to Slash.

The three men were lying on the ground within 10 to 15 feet of each other, he continued.

After collecting the witness statements, Slash testified that he was told to take Allen to North Metro Medical Center for tests to determine whether he was impaired by alcohol or drugs. The sergeant said that was standard procedure.

Slash said, while he was walking Allen to the car, “He was fine with me. Someone provoked him. I’m not sure what happened. He started yelling, jumping around…He was just yelling. He was just lunging out.”

Allen was restrained and handcuffed. That is when he became a suspect, the prosecution argued.

Jacksonville detective Cassie Blackerby also testified. She said she read Allen his Miranda rights before trying to interview him three or four hours after the incident. The interview and the reading of his rights were recorded on video, Blackerby said.

The 10-15 minute interview was halted when Allen asked for an attorney.

She continued, “He did not express any excitement or real emotion. He was nonchalant…He was just there. After an incident or an accident, people are at least shaken up just a little bit. He didn’t say anything other than I’ve already had my rights read to me.”

Blackerby said, “He didn’t seem concerned. He did not ask about the well-being of anyone. And that was pretty much it.”

She testified that he wasn’t fidgety and that she wasn’t afraid of him getting up from where he was sitting during the interview.

Blackerby testified that Allen seemed to understand the questions she asked him, but later said he didn’t understand the charge against him. At the time, he was charged with second-degree murder and two counts of criminal attempt to commit murder.

The detective said she asked him which charge he meant and Allen responded, “never mind.”

DiMatteo, Bowmaster, their wives and Jones’ family sat quietly in the front row of the spectators’ gallery during Monday’s hearing.

Judge Barry Sims, who ruled in July that Allen is mentally fit to stand trial, also denied a motion from the defense to prohibit first responders who attend the trial but are not testifying from wearing their uniforms.

Barnard argued that it would prejudice the jury.

The judge explained that keeping the first responders from wearing their uniforms would violate the First Amendment.

“They have the right to wear their uniforms,” he said.

Barnard withdrew a motion to prohibit video and audio of the accident scene and a motion to disclose the dispatch log or key sheet, which would show the numbers Jacksonville police use to identify officers speaking on radios.

Martin said she would get the dispatch log to the defense before the trial, but that the Jacksonville Police Department doesn’t have a key sheet.

The judge then set a Dec. 16 deadline for both sides to turn in any paperwork he needs to look at before the trial.

On Monday, Allen seemed calm and attentive. He did not look at the families during the hearing.

Allen’s behavior stood out in stark contrast to an August 2012 appearance when he talked over court officials as they worked to reschedule one of his hearings, accusing “everybody” of “hating” him.

Allen said then that the prison guards were abusing him and changing his medications in an attempt to kill him.

As he was escorted out of the courtroom at the earlier hearing, Allen said, “Guess I gotta get back in there and get killed. I’ll get back to preachin’ one of these days.”

This week, Allen’s back was straight rather than stooped as it was in August. His gait was normal rather than plodding.

Allen has a history of mental illness. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, hallucinations and delusions that included paranoia involving the Ku Klux Klan.

He was arrested in 2009 for second-degree battery of a police officer and terroristic threatening. According to court records, Allen was acquitted by reason of mental disease or defect.

The former Army corporal told the psychologist who examined him in 2010 that he had been hospitalized eight times, mostly at Fort Roots Veterans Hospital in North Little Rock.

Allen has also been accused of hitting an Ohio police officer with his car in October 2011.

The guard, who sustained a minor injury, was an off-duty police officer.