COEUR d’ALENE — In a fraction of a second before he died, Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore pushed against Jonathan D. Renfro’s shooting arm, sending a bullet fired from Renfro’s stolen pistol into Moore’s face and killing him, defense witnesses testified Tuesday.
The moment in time, about two-thirds of a second, fast enough to be caught on just 20 frames of Moore’s body camera, was the topic of discussion in the Renfro’s trial Tuesday in Coeur d’Alene’s First District Court.
Renfro is charged with first-degree murder and faces the death penalty for allegedly killing Moore at 1:26 a.m. May 5, 2015 in a north Coeur d’Alene neighborhood.
Tuesday’s testimony was an opportunity for defense attorneys to highlight for jurors their contention that Renfro did not attempt to kill Moore. The defendant had intended to shoot the officer in the body armor and flee, as deputy public defender Linda Payne alluded to in her opening statements last week.
If it had not been for Moore’s reaction, his quick upward deflection of Renfro’s arm, a push on the hand holding the gun in Renfro’s jacket pocket, the 9mm bullet from the 15-round magazine would not have taken Moore’s life, Payne intimated.
There was no malice of forethought, just a bump, a gunshot, and an officer lying dead in a Coeur d’Alene street.
But prosecutors foisted a statement for the sake of jurors that had been earlier deemed as inadmissible: A point shot - pointing at a target and firing - is often more accurate than aiming, and it is deadly at a couple of feet.
Renfro purposely used the tactic to kill Moore from less than two feet away, prosecutors interjected.
Tuesday morning’s testimony was comprised of a series of videos and photographs, including simulations of forensic scientists shooting a 9mm hollow-point through the pocket of a jacket, a replica of Renfro’s Free Country XL jacket.
In the afternoon, after the court released one of its 16 jurors for making a comment about the case to a bailiff during the long weekend, public defenders called two experts.
The experts, Jason Fries of San Francisco-based 3-D Forensics, and Gary Yamaguchi of Phoenix-based InSciTech, used footage from Moore’s body camera to support the defense theory that Moore used his left hand to push Renfro’s right arm, turning what would otherwise have been a non-lethal shot into an accidental assassination.
At 30 frames per second, Moore’s body camera showed the officer’s confrontation with the defendant, but it was an image of Moore’s hand taken in a fraction of a second that burned up more than two hours of screen time. Jurors watched, as over and over, a series of images of the hand were scrutinized by attorneys and experts.
“We just couldn’t see a gun,” Fries told the court. “We did see something made of metal flash across the screen.”
It could have been the zipper tab on the pocket that hid the 9mm Glock, Fries said.
Moore’s hand pushed against the metallic spot when the gun fired.
Fries showed night-vision, lime green, infra red and multi-colored images of Moore’s hand pushing.
The action was fast enough to cause ghosting — a show of movement — in the image.
“The impact occurred before the shot was fired,” Fries said. “He’s grabbing the forearm area of the suspect.”
Yamaguchi likened Moore’s hand on the gun pocket to the hand of an archer pushing against a bow. The images, Yamaguchi said, showed the pressure on Moore’s hand pushing against Renfro. It caused Moore’s wrist to angle and his knuckles to pull back while the thumb pressed forward.
Yamaguchi used additional close-up images of Moore’s hand seemingly pushing against a dark object in the night.
When used by archers, the hand pressure on the bow stem is referred to as an “American” grip, Yamaguchi said.
“This angle indicates to me a force applied between Mr. Renfro’s jacket and gun, and Officer Moore’s hand,” Yamaguchi said. “Officer Moore’s left hand made contact (with) Mr. Renfro prior to the shot being fired.”
Prosecutors objected to Fries’ testimony and the images he projected to jurors on the grounds attorneys had no time to scrutinize the evidence because it was submitted while court was underway.
However, District Judge Lansing Haynes allowed the evidence to be admitted and set aside time today for prosecutors to review the evidence and mount a salvo to rebut it.
The dismissal of juror 207 Tuesday afternoon left seat 11 vacant, and the 16-panel jury with one less member than in the morning.
Haynes warned the remaining jurors that, when they were not in court, to speak to no one about the case.
“Do not talk about this … not even in a casual or a small way,” Haynes said.
The defense is expected to rest today when the trial resumes at 1:15 p.m. in Courtroom 1 of the old Kootenai County Courthouse.