CULPEPER COUNTY, Va. (WUSA) -- Former Culpeper police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright broke down and cried on the witness stand recalling the day he shot and killed Patricia Cook.
He'd been called to investigate a suspicious person at the Epiphany Catholic school annex parking lot on February 9, 2012 at 10 a.m.
He said he found her leaning back in the driver's seat of her Jeep Wrangler with her eyes closed. He said he asked her for her ID but instead of handing it to him, she clutched it tight in front of her chest. When he reached in to grab it, he says she rolled up the window, catching his left arm in it, and then started driving. He says he was able to pull all but his hand out when she began swerving as she drove.
Harmon-Wright said on the stand:
"The window was cinched down really tight on my left hand...on my knuckles....It was like she was trying to sling me off the vehicle."
"I screamed 'Stop or I'll shoot!' three times as loud as I could. The whole time she was screaming 'No!' and continuing to accelerate...I discharged my weapon twice in very rapid succession and the window shattered."
He said she slammed on her brakes, throwing him forward. He said she then tried to run him over swervingtowards him as she exited the driveway and turned left on North East Street. In a split second, he decided he needed to stop her, he said, and that's when he fired five more shots into the back of Cook's car as she drove away. One pierced the back of herseat and severed her spine, another pierced her brain. The Jeep came to a stop as it crashed into a utility pole.
Daniel Harmon-Wright said on the stand:
"I knew she had just attacked me with her car and If I let her continue, she would possibly strike and kill someone."
He was asked if his intention, when he fired directly toward the vehicle was to kill the driver, he said no. Harmon-Wright asserted over and over again that his intention was to "stop the threat." He also said that he fired directly at the vehicle because he didn't want his bullets to hit any innocent civilians. He described himself as an expert in marksmanship.
While none of the witnesses saw his hand caught in the window, there are photographs that look like he had suffered an abrasion on his leftarm and hand that day. Also, Defense attorney Dan Hawesentered into evidence a piece of glass that allegedly came out of Harmon-Wright's thumb days after the incident.
Culpeper Circuit Court Judge Susan Whitlock refused to allow the defense to enter a Virginia State Police lab report into evidence that defense attorney Dan Hawes says found blood on the window of the Wrangler matching Harman-Wright's. Judge Whitlock agreed with Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Fisher that the report was hearsay.
Harmon-Wright was asked how he felt about the shooting. "I don't feel good about it. I wish it never happened, but it did happen."
He said thathe'd do it again, because he believehewas protecting the public and that was what he was sworn to do.
Patricia Cook's brother John Weigler doesn't buy Harmon-Wright story. "How can you justify seven shots to the back to a woman sitting ina car? That makes no sense to me. That's just excessive, brutal force."
Weigleralso blames the Culpeper Police Department for not pulling Harmon-Wrigthoff the street after he'd been cited for using excessive force in at least one previous case.
The trial resumes Monday morning, January 28, 2013, with closing arguments. Then the jury will get the case.