Widow takes the stand

Sonny Long

Oct. 29, 2008 at 5:29 a.m.

WHARTON - Amanda Hurst placed an ear on her husband's chest as he lay motionless in a Houston hospital.

"He looked like he was sleeping. I wanted to hear his heart beat," she told a Wharton County jury Tuesday afternoon in the capital murder trial of Garrett Freeman, 27.

But there was no heart beat.

"I touched his hair because his body was cold," she said, breaking into tears for the second time during her testimony. Jurors and audience members also wept.

Amanda Hurst, 30, recalled when she found out something had happened to her husband. The doorbell of their El Campo home was ringing at 2:15 a.m. on March 17, 2007.

"I thought it was the alarm clock," she said. "Then I realized Justin wasn't there, and I was wondering why he was ringing the doorbell."

"When I saw the flashlight through the window, then I knew. When you are the wife of a police officer, you know what the flashlight in the window means," she said.

Holding that flashlight was Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Captain Rex Mays, who told her to come with him because Justin had been shot.

"I think I hit him a few times and pushed him," Hurst recalled, tears flowing.

Hurst was "afraid that if he was still alive, I'd miss his last breath," she said.

Justin and Amanda Hurst were three weeks shy of their sixth wedding anniversary when Justin was killed. The couple, who went fishing on their first date, have one child, Kyle, who was 4 months old at the time. Amanda Hurst was told of her husband's death on his 34th birthday.

When prosecutor Kelly Siegler ended her questioning of Amanda Hurst, defense attorney Stanley Schneider had no questions.

District attorney Josh McCown then told District Judge Randy Clapp that the state rested its case against Freeman.

Earlier in the day, the jury learned that Freeman had not completed any of the conditions of his probation when he got into the shoot-out with law enforcement officers.

Freeman was placed on probation on Aug. 8, 2006, for a driving while intoxicated conviction in Fort Bend County the previous October. He made monthly office visits to his probation officer until February 2007, when he began to not show up, according to records introduced during testimony Tuesday morning by Terri Green, a supervisor in the Fort Bend probation office.

At that time he had paid $215 of the $500 he was fined, but had not completed a state mandated DWI education course, had not attended a victim impact panel, nor done any of the 40 hours of community service that were conditions of his probation.

Green said Freeman had been sent a letter warning him that a warrant could be issued for his arrest if he did not contact the probation office.

Earlier in the morning, Ira Lapham, Freeman's landlord at the time of the shooting, said that Freeman was two months behind on his rent, but refused a job driving a tractor on Lapham's rice farm. Then after Lapham sent him a notice of eviction, effective March 15, 2007, Freeman called him and agreed to come to work the following Monday.

Freeman's call to Lapham was on Friday, March 16, 2007. By 11 o'clock that night, the pursuit began that led to the shoot-out and the eventual death of Hurst.

Harris County assistant medical examiner Kathryn Haden-Pinneri testified the fatal gunshot wound entered through his arm and pierced his aorta. About half of the body's blood volume had accumulated in his chest cavity.

The doctor also said there was nothing the on-scene responders could have done to save Hurst's life.

The afternoon session also included the defense's first witness, Jerome Brown, a clinical psychologist who examined and tested Freeman for the defense.

Brown characterized the shooting as something "out of character" for the Freeman his examinations revealed. He added that Freeman suffered from "mild to moderate levels of depression about a month after the incident" when he first examined him.

"Garrett's life had been deteriorating for several years. As the situation worsened, he became more depressed. His life was collapsing around him when this event occurred. It was not a happy life. It was a miserable, unproductive life," Brown explained, adding that Freeman's alcohol abuse was also a factor.

Under Siegler's cross-examination, Brown admitted, "He's not significantly depressed."

Brown testified that Freeman told him in a second interview that he was "just shooting randomly around" but "later, I didn't care they got shot because I was mad about being shot."

Freeman suffered four wounds in the shoot-out.

Brown said that Freeman told him that he "panicked and made the situation worse and maybe took a chance and could get away. I started thinking about all the trouble I was in."

The psychologist also said that Freeman had "suicidal thoughts."

In his opening statement on the first day of the trial, Schneider had put forth the theory that Freeman was attempting to commit suicide by cop when he began shooting at the officers.

Siegler asked Brown, "Have you ever heard of a suicide by cop where the cop ended up dead?"

Brown had not.

Testimony continues at 9 a.m. today at the Wharton County District Court building with the defense expected to call Freeman's relatives and friends to the stand.



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