BY KEN LITTLE
ROGERSVILLE -- Ethan A. Self admitted to authorities within 24 hours of his father's violent death that he fired the fatal shot.
Self's actions in that narrow time frame were scrutinized Wednesday during the third day of his trial at the Hawkins County Justice Center.
Investigators who took two written statements from Self about the March 24, 2010, shooting of Greeneville police Sgt. Roger Self took the stand. Self, 21, is charged with first-degree murder.
Prosecutors are seeking to persuade jurors that the shooting of Roger Self was premeditated by his son and was intentional.
The defense team portrays Self as an abused son whose frustration with Roger Self boiled over into an accidental shooting in their Love Street home.
In rigorous cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, defense lawyers John T. Milburn Rogers and Herbert Moncier questioned the validity of the written-statement method used by investigators and repeatedly asked why his confession was not recorded on videotape.
The short answer is that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Berkeley Bell, Third Judicial District attorney general, prefer to use written statements, prosecution witnesses said.
TBI AGENT TESTIFIES
TBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Shannon Morton took a written statement from Self on March 25, 2010. It was the second statement Self had given to investigators.
He denied involvement in the shooting in a first statement given to investigators hours after the shooting.
Morton, a supervisory TBI official, said he went to the shooting scene on March 25 to assist investigators.
He was asked by another TBI agent to speak to Self, then 18. They went to the Greene County Sheriff's Department.
"We just sat down and had a conversation of the events of the previous night," Morton said.
Self had earlier told detectives he came home on the afternoon of March 24, 2010, to find the house ransacked.
Greeneville police supervisors found the lifeless body of Roger Self in his bed after the 46-year-old dispatch sergeant did not report for work at 7 p.m. on the 24th.
Ethan Self "went through virtually the same story he told the night before with very little deviation," Morton testified.
Morton told Self he wasn't telling the truth.
After further conversation, Morton said, Ethan Self offered a statement with a new version of events that was read into the trial record Wednesday.
Self began with a description of going to school and other activities on March 23, the day before the shooting.
He said in the statement that his father became angry when he took a shower and used the wrong towel.
The mistake resulted in the elder Self's calling his son "stupid," and other derogatory remarks, according to the statement read by Morton.
When Ethan Self asked his father for money the morning of March 24 to eat breakfast at McDonald's, Roger Self told his son he was "worthless" for not having a job, the statement said.
Ethan Self sent a text message to his his father during the day, offering to do some chores around the house, but his father did not respond: an indication that he was angry, the statement said.
Ethan Self went to high school track practice and returned home about 4:40 p.m. His father asked him to wake him up at 5:45 p.m.
"I screwed up and didn't wake him up," Morton read from Self's statement.
When Roger Self woke up on his own about five minutes later, he came out into the living room and "shoved" Ethan Self's head into the recliner, then went back to bed, the statement said.
'THE BIGGER MAN'
"I decided to show him who the bigger man was," Self said in the statement taken by Morton.
He got his father's Police Department service weapon, a .40 caliber Glock handgun, from another room in the house. Then he went into his father's bedroom, the statement said.
"I had my finger on the trigger, and I thought I had the safety on," the statement said.
According to the statement read in court by Morton, the pistol discharged when Roger Self snored loudly and startled his son.
"That's when the gun went off," the statement said.
Self told Morton that he was standing six to eight feet away from his father in the bedroom when the gun discharged. He said he panicked.
"I almost got sick, and I was trying to think what I could do, and I decided I would try and make it look like a break-in," the statement said.
Self said he went to the home of his maternal grandmother and then to Hardin Park, where he attached the gun to a brick to weigh it down and threw it in a pond.
He received a call from Mike Crum, a Greeneville Police Department captain who at the time was a lieutenant and supervisor on the shift Roger Self was working. Crum asked Ethan Self if he had seen his father.
"I did not know how dad was at the time," the statement said.
The statement also detailed what Ethan Self said was ongoing verbal and physical abuse at his father's hands.
Self's mother, Kathryn Anne Self, died suddenly in December 2007, when he was 15.
Absent from the written statement submitted by Morton was the phrase "accidental shooting." But Rogers said on cross-examination that Ethan Self told investigators the shooting incident was an accident.
"Nowhere in the statement did you use the term 'accident,'" Rogers said. "One of the first things Ethan told you (was) it was an accident. Do you remember that?"
Morton replied that he did not.
Rogers referred to a summary of the statement written by Morton on March 26, 2010. The summary said that Ethan Self indicated the shooting "was an accident and he didn't mean to do it."
Morton agreed he used the term in the summary.
"The statement that I took from him was as close to his words as I could get," Morton said. "I wrote down what he said."
PRESSING THE ISSUE
Rogers asked Morton if the TBI requires investigators to take written statements from criminal suspects.
"That's the preferred way to take a statement," Morton said.
To clarify the question, presiding Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood asked Morton if TBI policy required him to take a written statement, as opposed to recording the statement on video or audio.
"It's not a requirement; it's the preferred method," Morton said.
The second interview with Ethan Self leading to the written statement took over three hours.
"You're telling the jury that over a 3-1/2 hour period you were able to recall more accurately than an audio-video machine could record so his testimony could be recalled by the jury?" Rogers asked.
Electronic devices can malfunction, Morton said.
FEW STAEMENTS TAPED
Morton, who has nearly 30 years of investigative experience, told lead prosecutor Tony Clark that of the "hundreds, if not thousands" of statements he has taken from defendants, "no more than two or three" were taped.
"Mr. Rogers said you put your words in the statement. That's not true?" Clark asked.
"No," Morton said.
Earlier, TBI Special Agent Scotty Ferguson testified, as did Detective Sgt. Mike Fincher of the Greene County Sheriff's Department.
Ferguson and Fincher took the first statement from Ethan Self, hours after Roger Self was found shot to death.
Clark asked Ferguson about Self's demeanor as he was denying involvement in his father's death.
"There wasn't a whole lot of emotion. He was very calm and very cooperative," said Ferguson, who read Self's first statement.
On cross-examination, Moncier pursued the same line of questioning Rogers did with Morton.
"Would a video be the best evidence of the way Ethan Self presented himself?" Moncier asked.
"Yes," Ferguson replied.
Blackwood asked Ferguson if he was instructed to use an audio or
"No," he said.
Fincher, lead Sheriff's Department investigator on the case, testified earlier Wednesday that, after looking at the disheveled condition of the Self house after the elder Self died, "We switched our focus to the last person that saw Roger Self (alive) in the house, and that was Ethan Self."
Fincher described to the jury photographs taken in the house on the night of Roger Self's death, and showed jurors evidence collected by investigators.
Exhibits included Roger Self's Glock service weapon, which was recovered from the pond in Hardin Park.
Fincher held up the pistol for the jury to see, and the brick that Ethan Self attached to it before he threw it in the pond.
Ethan Self was asked to return to the Love Street house on March 25 and do a "walk-through" with Fincher to gather more information. Clark asked Fincher how Self was acting that day.
"He wasn't terribly upset," Fincher testified. "I didn't see him crying or throwing a fit or anything like that. He was very quiet."
On cross-examination by Rogers, Fincher said he didn't immediately recall testimony by Morton that the shooting was an accident at a General Sessions Court preliminary hearing held after Ethan Self was charged with murder.
Dr. Karen Cline-Parhamovich, director of the Division of Forensic Pathology at East Tennessee State University and chief medical examiner for the State of Tennessee, performed the Roger Self autopsy on March 25, 2010.
She explained to the jury photographs of the bullet wound to Roger Self's head.
Cline-Parhamovich testified that the autopsy showed Roger Self died of a gunshot wound to the head. The bullet "entered the back of the head and it exited the left forehead," she said.
Cline-Parhamovich said the distance the fatal shot was fired from was "indeterminate."
"I can't rule out a few feet," she said.
Trial testimony showed Roger Self's head was apparently covered with a comforter when the shot was fired.
No gunpowder-related abrasions were found around the entrance point of Roger Self's head wound; abrasions would indicate a shot fired from close range.
But Cline-Parhamovich said if a quilt or comforter was over the victim's head when a shot was fired, gunpowder that would cause the effect called stippling "would be filtered out."
DEATH RULED 'HOMICIDE'
The doctor classified the cause of death as homicide.
During cross-examination by Moncier, she clarified the term to mean "death at the hands of another person" without necessarily confirming that a crime was committed.
"Can you tell if it was an accident or not?" Moncier asked.
"I don't have enough information," Cline-Parhamovich said.
Prosecution testimony will continue today.