The jury heard emotional testimony Friday from a former Culpeper Police officer charged with murdering an unarmed woman last year. News4 Northern Virginia Bureau reporter David Culver has more on that and an unusual field trip for the jury.
Friday proved to be an emotional day in court for Daniel Harmon-Wright, the former Culpeper Town Police officer charged with murdering Patricia Cook.
In tearful court testimony, Harmon-Wright told the jury he feared for his life and that's why he shot Cook on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012.
He told the court he responded to the call for a suspicious vehicle in the parking lot of Epiphany Catholic School. Harmon-Wright testified that he walked up to Cook's Jeep. He noticed a fold-out sun shade blocking the windshield. When he approached the window, Harmon-Wright said Cook had her head resting back. He asked her what she was doing there. According to Harmon-Wright, Cook paused for a few seconds before saying, "I'm here to see a friend."
Harmon-Wright said he asked Cook for her license. He told the court she pulled it out of her purse but kept it close to her chest, refusing to hand it over. He tried to grab it and claims that's when Cook rolled up her window, trapping his arm. Harmon-Wright said Cook then started driving.
"I was trying to pull the door open," Harmon-Wright testified. "I said, ‘(Expletive) stop what you're doing.’
"I could feel pressure,” he continued. “It was still trying to close on my arm."
Harmon-Wright said he managed to slide out most of his arm, but his fingers were still stuck. That's when he said he put his gun up against the window and fired twice, falling free from the shattered window. But he said Cook's Jeep continued moving out of the parking lot and onto East Street.
"I thought she was trying to sideswipe me," Harmon-Wright told the court. "She knew I was there and continued to drive."
Harmon-Wright claimed he fired several more rounds to "stop the threat to the public." He testified he saw a pedestrian out of his peripheral vision and that's why he felt the need to stop Cook's Jeep. "If I allowed her to continue down the road, she would possibly strike somebody," Harmon-Wright said.
In cross-examination special prosecutor Jim Fisher asked Harmon-Wright why he didn't mention certain details during his interrogation two hours after the incident. Namely the claim that Cook tried to sideswipe him and that Harmon-Wright had allegedly sustained injuries. Harmon-Wright acknowledged he made no mention of those claims, telling the court, "I was very upset at the time."
Throughout his 80-minute testimony, which included several emotional breakdowns, Harmon-Wright directed most of his answers to the 14-member jury (including 2 alternates) sitting across from him. His wife sat behind him, equally emotional.
"I wish it had never happened, but it did happen." Harmon-Wright told the court. "Given the same set of circumstances, I think I would have done the same thing."
"How can you justify seven shots, several in the back of an unarmed woman in a car?" Patricia Cook’s brother John Weigler said outside of court. He said he's hopeful justice will be served.
Friday morning the jury was bused to the scene of the shooting. They walked in silence only holding an exhibit map for reference.
The defense has rested its case. Closing arguments will begin at 10 a.m. Monday. A verdict could come as soon as early next week.