Loren Wade trial: Week 2

Wade's murder trial enters second week

 published on Monday, May 21, 2007

Ralph Freso / COURTESY OF THE EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE
Wade appeared in court Monday for the start of his murder trial's second week.
Ralph Freso / COURTESY OF THE EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE
Former ASU linebacker Jamar Williams testified Monday.
Ralph Freso / COURTESY OF THE EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE
Wade's defense attorney Ulises Ferragut (left) and Wade's then girlfriend Haley van Blommestein demonstrating to the jury her approximate distance from Wade at the time of the shooting.
Ralph Freso / COURTESY OF THE EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE
Wade's girlfriend at the time, Haley van Blommestein, testified Monday.

Read about the first week
Day 7 - Thursday, May 24
by Matt Stone
PHOENIX The second week of the trial involving former ASU football player Loren Wade in connection with the death of another former football player came to a close Thursday with the defense calling two witnesses.

Wade is accused of the first-degree murder of Brandon Falkner, who was shot outside a Scottsdale nightclub in the early morning of March 26, 2005.

Ulises Ferragut, Wade's defense attorney, called two witnesses, a Scottsdale detective who conducted interviews following the shooting and a friend of Wade's then girlfriend who was at the scene of the crime.

Levise Robertson accompanied Haley van Blommestein to the Scottsdale nightclub shortly before the shooting.

After exiting the club at about 2 a.m., Robertson said van Blommestein received a call that she later identified to be Wade.

"She was frantic," Robertson said of van Blommestein during the conversation with Wade.

At one point, Robertson said she took the phone and spoke with Wade.

"The defendant began screaming at you, right?" Asked prosecutor Juan Martinez, which Robertson confirmed.

Robertson said that she lost track of van Blommestein when they had drove to a nearby parking lot to meet with Falkner. But before Robertson last saw van Blommestein, "she threw back the keys and said 'Go, I'm saving your life.'"

Robertson said she didn't see Wade carrying a gun when he arrived.

"[I saw] him walking up to the car and the sound the pop," she said. "I didn't think it was real."

The case will continue Tuesday and Ferrgaut said he plans on calling forensic pathologist Dr. Vincent Di Maio early in the week.

Reach the reporter at matthew.g.stone@asu.edu
Day 6 - Wednesday, May 23
by Brian Indrelunas
PHOENIX The prosecution rested its case against Loren Wade Wednesday after calling their final witness a medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Brandon Falkner.

Wade is accused of first-degree murder in connection with Falkner's death outside a Scottsdale nightclub in the early morning hours of March 26, 2005.

Dr. Mark Fischione of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said Falkner was killed by the gunshot, which sent the bullet into his head behind his left ear. Fischione said the bullet traveled through both hemispheres of Falkner's brain and also affected his brain stem.

"That's a very vital area to have a gunshot wound," he said.

Just as firearms examiner Steven Valdez said Tuesday, Fischione testified that when a gun is fired, soot and other particles are also ejected from the weapon's muzzle. But the soot and particles only travel so far.

Fischione said no soot was found on Falkner's head, meaning the gun was at least six inches away from Falkner's head when it was fired.

Jurors saw photos taken during the autopsy that showed gunpowder particles had hit Falkner's head between his ear and the gunshot wound, in an area about 1.25 inches wide. Fischione said those particles can travel as far as two-and-a-half to three feet.

Fischione also said he found a bruise on Falkner's forehead and a semicircular cut on his cheek. Attorneys asked Fischione if the bruise could have been caused by an air bag or as a result of the car crashing and if the muzzle of a gun could have caused the cut. Fischione said those were possible but he couldn't be sure what caused either injury.

He couldn't determine order of the injuries, Fischione said, or any lengths of time that may have passed between them, nor could he speak to questions of Wade's intent.

"By doing the autopsy, I have no way to show what the intent is," he said.

Valdez, the Scottsdale firearms examiner who tested Wade's gun, also said his testing didn't speak to matters of intent. Valdez testified Tuesday that Wade's gun would not accidentally discharge, meaning it would not fire without the trigger being pulled, but could be unintentionally fired.

When defense attorney Ulises Ferragut resumed his cross-examination Wednesday, he asked Valdez to define an unintentional discharge.

"'Accidental' refers to the firearm," he said. "Unintentional discharge is actually talking about the person holding the gun."

In later questioning, prosecutor Juan Martinez asked if Wade's weapon could be unintentionally fired, just the same as "any other weapon ever put together and available to man since the beginning of time."

"Any firearm can be unintentionally discharged because it isn't dealing with the firearm; it deals with the person," Valdez said.

Ferragut also asked Valdez about a phenomenon known as reflexive squeeze, where an action by one arm or hand is mirrored by the other, but that line of questioning was cut short because Valdez is not a medical expert.

Wade's defense will call its first witnesses Thursday, and Ferragut said he expects the trial to wrap up next week.

Reach the reporter at brian.indrelunas@asu.edu
Day 5 - Tuesday, May 22
by Brian Indrelunas
PHOENIX Loren Wade's gun couldn't fire without the trigger being pulled, but it could be fired even if the safety switch was in the "safe" mode, a Scottsdale firearms examiner who tested the weapon said in court Tuesday.

Steven Valdez, who works in the Scottsdale Police Department's crime lab, said he tried moving the gun's slide and hitting different parts of the gun with a plastic hammer to see if it would fire without the trigger being pulled.

"It will not accidentally discharge, meaning you have to pull the trigger to make this gun fire," Valdez said. "It won't fire all on its own."

Under cross-examination by Wade's attorney, Ulises Ferragut, Valdez said that while the gun couldn't be accidentally fired, it could be unintentionally discharged.

Questions of intent are key to the case since Wade is charged with first-degree murder, which Arizona law defines as a premeditated and intentional or knowing act. Wade, a former ASU football player, is charged in connection with the March 2005 shooting death of Brandon Falkner, another former ASU football player, outside a Scottsdale nightclub.

Wade's gun has two safety mechanisms, one on the handle or grip of the gun that allows the weapon to be fired when it's held normally and another that's a switch on the side of the gun.

Valdez said his tests showed that the grip safety worked correctly. But he said if the grip safety was depressed and therefore disengaged, the gun could fire regardless of the setting of the switch on the side of the weapon.

"I found that the striker would actually strike if I pulled the trigger hard enough," Valdez said about his test of the gun with the grip safety disengaged and the safety switch still engaged.

Under cross-examination, Valdez said if the weapon were fired with the switch in the safe position, the switch would automatically change to the fire position.
Valdez also said his tests showed more pressure was required to fire the weapon when the switch was in the safe position.

"It was harder to pull the trigger," he said, "but not extremely hard."
Last week, jurors heard from the gun's previous owner, Tim Ortega, who said he didn't know of any defects with the gun's safety mechanisms. But Ortega said the gun would jam after every couple shots.

Valdez said Tuesday that on all eight of the test firings he conducted, the bullet left the muzzle as intended but the semi-automatic gun did not eject the used casing as it's designed to.

"This particular self-loading pistol, in my experience, did not self-load," he said.
Valdez also discussed how the gunpowder particles that follow a bullet out of the muzzle of a gun spread farther as the distance between a gun and its target increases. Ferragut planned to ask Valdez more about those particles late Tuesday but will instead have to bring up the topic when he resumes his cross-examination of Valdez Wednesday.

Jurors also heard Tuesday from the third passenger who was sitting in Brandon Falkner's car at the time of the shooting. Antoine Manning said he was in the Valley visiting his close friend and fellow backseat passenger Cale Readis on the night of the shooting.

Manning said that he not only saw Wade rack his gun but also saw him load ammunition into the handle of the gun.

Readis and front-seat passenger Tyrone Bowers both said in testimony last week that they heard Wade rack his gun, an action that brings a bullet into the chamber so that it can be fired. Readis said he didn't see Wade load a magazine of ammunition into the gun.

Reach the reporter at brian.indrelunas@asu.edu
Day 4 - Monday, May 21
by Brian Indrelunas
PHOENIX Loren Wade's girlfriend could see both Wade and Brandon Falkner when a flash appeared from Wade's gun and a bullet hit Falkner, she said Monday.

Haley van Blommestein testified in Maricopa County Superior Court, describing the March 2005 shooting that left Falkner dead and Wade standing trial charged with first-degree murder.

"Loren hit Brandon in the face," van Blommestein said. "At that point he had a gun.

"And then I saw the bullet [hit] the left side of his head, and his head fell and the car shot forward."

Van Blommestein, who played on the ASU soccer team for four years, said she knew Wade because they were both involved in intercollegiate athletics, and the two started dating in the summer of 2004. Van Blommestein said she and Wade were still dating at the time of the shooting, but their relationship "was rocky at that time" and she had thought about breaking up with him.

Standing in line outside the CBNC nightclub in Scottsdale on the night of the shooting, van Blommestein said she and her friend Levise Robertson saw Falkner and some of his friends approaching the club. She said they let the men join them near the front of the line and made plans to meet in the parking lot after the club closed.

But van Blommestein said that as she was leaving the club around 2 a.m., she spoke with Wade by telephone and asked him to pick her up at the club instead. She said Wade sounded upset during the phone call, and she had not told him earlier about her plans to visit the nightclub.

Van Blommestein said she sat in the passenger seat of her car as Robertson drove to a different part of the parking lot to meet Falkner and his friends, but when they arrived she told Robertson to take the car and leave.

"I said, 'Go. Go. I'm saving your life. Go,'" she said.

After Robertson drove off, Falkner pulled up to the meeting place, which was away from the club's entrance and near a bank in the same shopping center, van Blommestein said. She said she had seen Wade's car circling the parking lot and that she was standing alongside Falkner's car telling him about the change in plans when Wade walked up.

It was then that van Blommestein said she saw Wade punch Falkner with his gun in hand and saw the shot fired. She said she didn't remember how much time elapsed between the punch and the shot and didn't see whether Wade racked his gun because she was focusing her attention on Falkner.

Van Blommestein said Wade appeared shocked after the gun fired.

Jurors also heard from a friend and teammate of Wade's who said he was almost shot in the foot when Wade's gun fired earlier that night.

Jamar Williams, a former Sun Devil linebacker who now plays for the Chicago Bears, said he met up with Wade and others in a Tempe parking lot a few hours before the fatal shooting in Scottsdale. He said Wade hadn't taken out the gun, pointed it or done anything else to suggest that he intended to fire the weapon, but it fired from within the pocket of his jeans.

"I remember seeing that, the hole in his pocket where the gunshot came out," Williams said.

Jurors later saw a pair of jeans with a hole in the pocket that Scottsdale Sgt. Todd Larson, then a detective assigned to the shooting, said he took while serving a search warrant at Wade's apartment.

Williams said that Wade, who had been driven to the parking lot by others, was "the most drunk I'd ever seen him" and didn't seem upset about the gunshot that hit the ground about an inch from Williams' foot.

"I was just surprised by the whole situation because he was so relaxed and he wasn't himself," Williams said. "[After the gun discharged] he tried calming me down by giving me a hug."

Cale Readis, who was sitting in the back seat of Falkner's car at the time of the shooting in Scottsdale, was also called back to the stand Monday to answer follow-up questions from jurors.

The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case this week, and Wade's defense may call its first witnesses Thursday.

Reach the reporter at brian.indrelunas@asu.edu


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