Former Culpeper Town police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright took the stand Friday afternoon on day four of the trial to determine his guilt or innocence in the fatal shooting of 54-year-old Patricia Ann Cook on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012.
Harmon-Wright broke down several times during his testimony recounting his actions that morning which led to her death.
Responding to a 9-1-1 call which had been placed from Epiphany Catholic School reporting a ‘suspicious’ vehicle in the annex parking lot, Harmon-Wright arrived to find Cook sitting in the drivers seat of a green Jeep Wrangler with her head back as if she were resting. A sun visor was in place in the windshield.
He explained to her that the school had phoned the police concerned about her presence in the parking lot as it was private property.
According to Harmon-Wright, Cook appeared confused that the ‘suspicious’ call was about her. He said there was something about her which was ‘off putting’ and ‘odd.’ Her attitude seemed aloof.
According to Harmon-Wright, the drivers side window was rolled about 4-5 inches down as he asked her for her identification.
Holding her drivers license in both hands close to her chest, Cook refused to surrender the license.
Harmon-Wright said that there was glare from the sun and he couldn’t make out the information on the license but Cook began yelling, “No, no…you can’t have it.”
“I reached in to grab the license,” said Harmon-Wright who then became alarmed as he claims she began to roll up the window on his arm and to move the vehicle forward.
“I was shouting the loudest I’ve ever yelled in my life,” stammered Harmon-Wright, “Stop…Stop…stop what you’re doing.”
Harmon-Wright said that his left arm was caught in the window while his right hand was on the drivers door.
“I was trying to work my arm out of the window,” said Harmon-Wright adding that as he drew it out his hand was still stuck with the window cinching down tighter and tighter on his knuckles.
Then Harmon-Wright recounts that Cook started to move the vehicle forward in jerky motions as she was screaming, “no…no.” When she slammed on the brakes, he was thrown forward with his back coming in contact with the side mirror.
“She’s trying to kill me with the car,” is what Harmon-Wright testified were his thoughts in those frantic seconds as he attempted to free himself from the vehicle.
He claims that Cook continued to accelerate and now he was shouting at her to stop or he would shoot.
“Stop…Stop…stop or I’ll shoot,” he screamed at her at the same time that he jumped on the running board and his right hand found and discharged his weapon.
“I fired very fast,” said Harmon-Wright saying that he fired two rounds in quick succession which broke the glass and allowed his hand to be freed.
Harmon-Wright then goes on to recount that he fell slightly but managed to stay on his feet.
With the vehicle still moving, Harmon-Wright said, “she’s trying to side swipe me.”
“I knew she’d attack me with the car,” he continued now concerned that she might “possibly strike and kill somebody.”
Harmon-Wright then fires five more rounds into the vehicle.
When pressed by special prosecutor Jim fisher whether his intent was to shoot the driver, Harmon-Wright testified that his intent was to “eliminate a threat to the public.”
Contradicting earlier statements
Several of the statements that Harmon-Wright made during his testimony were of concern to Fisher.
On Wednesday, a recorded interview conducted by special agent Richard Shively with Harmon-Wright on the date of the shooting was played for the jurors.
In that interview, Harmon-Wright does not mention Cook’s attempt to side swipe him.
Nor does he mention seeing a pedestrian on the street. But in Friday’s testimony, he recalled seeing a pedestrian out of his “left peripheral vision” as the Jeep moved south on North East Street.
On Friday, Harmon-Wright said that he had discovered a small piece of glass in his thumb which his attorney, Daniel Hawes, offered as evidence.
That alleged injury was not mentioned during the initial interview.
“You didn’t tell agent Shively that Cook slammed on the brakes,” said Fisher reminding Harmon-Wright that Shively had been very patient with him and asked him repeatedly for details. In fact, having him recount the incident at least three times.
“I was really, really upset that day,” said Harmon-Wright explaining the omissions. “I was thinking of my family, the political implications for the police department, Cook’s family…I haven’t gotten over it…I wish it never happened.”
Harmon-Wright added, however, that “Given the circumstances, I would have done the same thing.”
Court resumes at 9 a.m. Jan. 28. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Then the outcome will be in the jury’s hands.
Earlier that day
Court resumed at 10:20 a.m. on Friday morning in the trial of former Culpeper Town police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright who is charged with four counts in the death of Patricia A. Cook on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012.
In May of last year, a special investigative grand jury (convened at the request of special prosecutor Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Fisher), handed up a four count indictment against Harmon-Wright charging him with one count of murder, one count of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, one count of malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in death, and one count of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Harmon-Wright plead not guilty to those charges in June and requested that he be given a jury trial.
Now, seven months later that jury braved the chilly winter air walking the scene of that incident which started in the parking lot of Epiphany Catholic School and continued south on North East Street.
Judge Susan L. Whitlock granted the prosecutor’s motion to allow them to view the area as an enhancement to the schematics, aerial photos, additional photos and verbal testimony that had been presented in the prosecutor’s arguments.
Before the jurors were called back into the courtroom, defense for Harmon-Wright, Daniel Hawes, presented a 10-page motion to strike. Hawes questioned whether sufficient evidence had been presented to prove each of the four counts beyond reasonable doubt.
The motion was denied by Judge Susan Whitlock.