State cites cruelty in 2004 shooting
BY KIMBERLY ASHTON STAFF WRITER
NORTHAMPTON - Bryan Johnston used an extraordinarily damaging type of bullet to kill David Sullivan, a fact the commonwealth says shows he killed with extreme cruelty, one of the elements of first-degree murder.
Johnston, 24, is on trial in Hampshire Superior Court for murder and for gun violations. He is charged with killing Sullivan, a buddy from high school, in his Amherst apartment Dec. 7, 2004. Johnston admits to killing Sullivan but claims he was insane at the time.
Police have testified that Johnston used a .223-caliber rifle loaded with hollow-point bullets to kill Johnston.
A hollow-point bullet - the type found in an autopsy of Sullivan's body - opens upon impact, causing a larger wound than a normal bullet would, according to ballistics expert Trooper John S. Schrijn, who testified for about three hours Tuesday.
At one point during Schrijn's detailed testimony, Sullivan's mother left the courtroom in tears.
First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Renee Steese rested her case Tuesday afternoon, and the defense case was set to start today.
A big part of the prosecution's case, though, is expected to come up in rebuttal testimony, as the state refutes the defense claim that Johnston was insane when he shot and killed Sullivan.
After bursting open, the hollow-point bullet ejected shards of lead into Sullivan, some of which were displayed on an overhead projector for jurors.
'This bullet is intended to kill,' Lt. Ronald Young, the lead investigator in the case for the Amherst Police Department, said on the witness stand Tuesday.
Young testified that he found the rifle about 25 to 30 yards off Old Bay Road in Hadley, resting against a tree in an embankment. A live round was found lying on a log nearby.
The rifle was shown to jurors Tuesday and Schrijn described how it had been altered: the barrel had been shortened and a scope, laser device and flashlight had been added. It wasn't clear whether Johnston did the altering.
The weapon, defense attorney Alexander Nappan noted, is like the M-16s used in the Vietnam War, with the exception that machine guns are automatic and Johnston's rifle is semi-automatic, meaning that the trigger has to be pulled for each shot fired.
Fingerprint expert Trooper Christopher Dolan testified that two of Johnston's prints were found on the gun. And Young said that Sullivan's blood was also found on it.
Kimberly Ashton can be reached at email@example.com.
I have never understood this reasoning. You are just as dead if you are killed with a FMJ bullet. If it is so cruel why does every police department in the US use them?
There has been a lot written about similar situations and some of it might even apply to a "legitimate" shooting by a concealed carry licensed person.
I've read that if your carry pistol has a "hair trigger", say 2-3 pounds that it could be used against you even if it were a righteous shooting and a legal pistol. The same goes for "carry bullets" like the ones used here.
I agree 100% with you that dead is dead. The shooting above, of course, is clearly a tragic and criminal event using supposedly (I say that because we don't know the barrel length) using an illegal rifle (I wonder if it had a 5 round mag?). But for the prosecutor to pile on that the bullet was particularly evil is an interesting development.
Consider the fact that when bad guys are arraigned or tried, the first thing that usually gets tossed out is the gun violation. They don't ever seem to mention the type of bullet a bad guy was shooting, do they? Nope, the defense lawyer negotiates a watered down plea and the gun charge goes away. In the case above, however, they really want to bury this suspect and have added the frangible round charge. I wonder if the gang-bangers are treated the same way!