As Being A Factor
BY KEN LITTLE
ROGERSVILLE -- Perceptions of Ethan A. Self's demeanor in the hours following the fatal shooting of his father was one of the focuses as prosecution testimony got underway Tuesday in Self's murder trial here.
The younger Self, now 21, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death March 24, 2010 of Greeneville police Sgt. Roger Self, 46.
The trial is being conducted with a jury selected from Hawkins County residents at the Hawkins County Justice Center.
Self is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly "premeditatively and intentionally" killing his father.
Officers who were first on the scene of the fatal shooting at the Selfs' Love Street house, and friends who went to the home after they heard about the shooting, offered emotional testimony about the victim and their knowledge of the defendant.
DIDN'T REPORT TO WORK
Police Capt. Michael Crum testified that he went to check on Roger Self when Self did not report for work at 7 p.m. on March 24, 2010.
Crum, a lieutenant at the time, was a supervisor on the shift that was to begin work that night.
Crum and Self spent many years on the police force together, and knew each other well.
Self was usually "very punctual," Crum said. Calls to his home and cell phones went unanswered. Crum said he got Ethan Self's cell phone number from his maternal grandmother and called Ethan to ask if he had seen his father.
Ethan Self said he hadn't seen his father since the morning, adding "He didn't think he was going to be at work that day," Crum testified under questioning by lead prosecutor Tony Clark.
The Self family has a farm in the Bibles Chapel community, and Crum asked Ethan Self to see if his father was there. Ethan called back and said his father wasn't at the farm.
Ethan Self said he was going to the house and would check on his father.
"We had a conversation, and he began to worry," Crum testified, adding that he himself also decided to go over to the house that Roger and Ethan Self shared.
Crum found the front door open. Inside, rooms appeared to be "ransacked," Crum said. Ethan Self was "upset," he added.
Before he entered the house of a fellow police officer, Crum asked Ethan Self if he knew if his father slept with his gun.
"He said, "I don't even know where he keeps his gun,'" Crum said.
Crum entered the darkened bedroom and said he saw someone lying on the bed. An alarm clock was ringing, and two cell phones were beeping on a table next to the bed.
When he got closer to the bed, Crum said he saw from hair on the back of the head that it was Roger Self. He asked Ethan Self, who was in a hall, if he was all right.
"My concern was this poor young man I knew well," Crum said. "We came out of the house and went to the front steps, and he just collapsed (and) he appeared to be crying."
Clark asked Crum how long he was in Roger Self's bedroom.
"I was there to check on him, and I could tell in my mind he was dead, and I wanted to get Ethan out of there," Crum said.
Kathryn Anne Self, Ethan Self's mother and Roger Self's wife, died unexpectedly on Dec. 28, 2007. The veteran nursing supervisor was found dead in an unoccupied patient room at Laughlin Memorial Hospital.
Crum testified that he told Ethan Self that his father was gone.
"He told me he didn't know what to do. His mother died," Crum said. "I said we loved him and we would take care of him and not to worry."
Crum testified that he recalled Ethan Self's stopping by the police station many times in past years to see his father.
"I know they never parted without both of them saying, 'I love you,'" Crum said.
In response to a cross-examination question by defense lawyer Herbert Moncier, Crum agreed with Moncier's statement that Ethan Self appeared "absolutely distraught" about his father's death.
Police Capt. Beth Dyke, a patrol division supervisor in 2010 and now chief of detectives, next took the stand and described to Clark how she arrived at the house after Crum and went into Roger Self's bedroom. Dyke and Self had been co-workers and friends for years.
As Dyke walked into the yard, she saw Ethan Self and Crum sitting on the steps. Self "appeared to be crying," Dyke said.
When Dyke entered the house, "I immediately knew something was wrong because stuff was laying all over," she said.
As Dyke made her way into Self's dark bedroom, she saw a body in the bed.
"I saw a comforter over the top of the head and a body laying there and an alarm was blaring," she said.
Dyke momentarily lost her composure as she described to Clark what she found when she went to the other side of the bed and saw Roger Self's face.
"I could see blood," Dyke said.
She checked vital signs on Roger Self and found none.
"I could see his hands in front of him. "I've been an officer for a long time, and I knew it was a gunshot wound," Dyke said. "I could see a bullet wound in the back of his head."
NO GUN FOUND
As she looked for a gun, Dyke testified, she saw a pool of blood under the bed and another on top of it. There was no weapon in the room.
By that time, personnel from Greene County-Greeneville Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were on the scene, and investigators from the Sheriff's Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) were en route.
Because the shooting occurred outside the Greeneville city limits and Self was a Greeneville officer, the TBI and the Greene County Sheriff's Department took over the investigation.
Dyke was asked by Clark how Roger Self interacted with his son.
"I never saw anything except a loving relationship," she said.
During cross-examination, Moncier asked Dyke about a bracelet she was wearing.
The bracelet, worn by many local law enforcement officers, is inscribed "in Memory of Sgt. Roger Self," or a message to that effect.
FRIEND TAKES STAND
Chuck Jeffers, a good friend of Roger Self who went to the house after he learned of Self's death, also took the stand.
Ethan Self let him in the door when Jeffers went to the house about 9:20 p.m.
"I was crying. I was upset. He was crying. He said, 'Daddy's gone,'" Jeffers testified.
Jeffers, who is Greene County assessor of property, told Clark that Ethan Self's demeanor had changed by the next day, when he accompanied Ethan and investigators as they walked through the house on Love Street.
"I was thinking, 'My best friend has died.' What I saw was, Ethan showed no emotion," Jeffers said.
Jeffers said Roger Self was a caring father who was very interested in his son's well-being.
"Did you see any evidence of Ethan being abused?" Clark asked.
"Never," Jeffers responded.
Jeffers told Moncier on cross-examination that Ethan Self changed after his mother's death.
"I was worried about him that there was no emotion," Jeffers said.
Jeffers acknowledged to Moncier that conflicts existed between father and son about Ethan Self's wanting to go to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, too far from home for Roger Self's liking, and over the younger Self's relationship with a girlfriend.
"He was a parent trying to be a good parent," Jeffers said.
Also testifying was Jeffers' father, retired Greeneville police Major Charles Jeffers.
Major Jeffers was also at the Self home the night that Roger Self died, at the request of Ethan Self.
He drove Ethan Self and several others to the Sheriff's Department to give statements the night of March 24, 2010.
"I didn't see any emotion. It kind of startled me [that] with his father dead, he would not have some kind of emotion. He wouldn't look at me," Charles Jeffers testified.
In opening statements Tuesday morning, prosecutors and defense lawyers gave the seven-woman, five-man jury "road maps" of their separate versions of events leading up to the death of Roger Self.
Dennis Brooks, the assistant district attorney general assisting Clark with the case, motioned to the Tennessee state flag in the courtroom.
"If I stand here and call it the flag of the state of Virginia 100 times, it's still the flag of the state of Tennessee," Brooks said. "Is it an accident or is it intentional? Defense lawyers can call it an accident 100 times."
Brooks displayed a photograph of Roger Self's .40 caliber Glock service pistol, attached to a brick. One cartridge was stuck in the gun, partially ejected.
"You're going to hear about that," Brooks told jurors.
Brooks said experts would testify how many pounds of pressure it would take to fire the gun.
"It's not a hair-trigger, not lightweight," he said.
Police found Roger Self's house ransacked, but many items of value were still there, Brooks said.
He told the jury the defense would inaccurately portray Roger Self as an abusive father.
Self gave two statements to investigators. In the first, he denied knowledge of the shooting.
Brooks read from the second statement Self gave, where he told investigators he picked up his father's gun after they had words "and I decided to show him who the bigger man was."
Self told investigators he was going to wake his sleeping father up, "and I had my finger on the trigger and I thought the safety was on. That's when the gun went off," the statement said.
Brooks said the jury should pay close attention to the time frame of 5:55 to 7 p.m. on the day Roger Self died.
In a series of telephone text messages sent by Ethan Self to his girlfriend during that time period that were displayed in court on an overhead screen, Brooks said there is no mention of the death of Roger Self until 7:41 p.m., when Ethan Self texted, "Dad is gone ..."
OPENING STATEMENTS BY THE DEFENSE
Referencing the late broadcaster Paul Harvey, lead defense lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers urged the jury to pay close attention to "the rest of the story."
The defense maintains that the shooting was accidental.
Rogers characterized Self as a long-time victim of abuse by his father.
He cited findings of a psychologist hired by the state, who Rogers said agreed with elements of that opinion.
"No one knew what was going on behind closed doors," Rogers said.
With his mother's passing, Ethan Self lost his main protector, Rogers told the jury.
"His mother tried to shield him until her death, (and) then Ethan was left alone. He lost that buffer that he had," Rogers said.
Rogers said the abuse escalated prior to Roger Self's death. He said Ethan Self wanted to live with his maternal grandmother, a wish which caused even more friction between father and son.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS?
Rogers said evidence suggests that Ethan Self may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD.
He told the jury that evidence will show that Ethan Self's decision to handle his father's gun "is a byproduct" of PTSD.
"The question is, What happened in that bedroom, and why," Rogers said. "Unless you've walked in the shoes of Ethan Self, I don't know anyone can imagine the terror he was facing."
Both of Self's grandmothers were in the courtroom Tuesday.
Ethan Self's maternal grandmother, Norma George, sat behind the defense table. His paternal grandmother, Roger Self's mother Effie Self, sat behind prosecutors.
Self looked down and kept to himself through Tuesday's testimony.
Prosecution testimony continues today, with forensic evidence expected to be introduced.