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Defense, prosecution present opening statements in Washington County Tasing case

The defense maintains the former deputies did not know Martin was schizophrenic while the prosecution says Martin committed no crime

SANDERSVILLE, Ga. — An ongoing case over the fatal Tasing of a man by three former deputies had its first day in court Thursday. With a jury now selected, the trial has moved into statements and testimony.

In an opening statement by Prosecutor Kelly Weathers, she says Eurie Martin was exercising his constitutional right.

"No evidence that he committed a crime, but on that summer day, Eurie Lee Martin has the audacity to exercise his constitutional right to walk away, and to be so bold, he lost his life," Weathers said.

Tianna Bias, one of Michael Howell's attorneys, followed with the opening statements for the defense.

"Michael was put in a position to make a split-second decision that could potentially be life-saving for the community. He did not know that Mr. Martin was schizophrenic," Bias said.

 After opening statements, the state called several witnesses. Investigator Trey Burgamy with the Washington County Sheriff's Office took the stand where the prosecution asked about department policy.

 "What is the policy with regard to multiple deployments of the Taser on an individual?" the prosecution asked.

"It's prohibited," Burgamy answered. 

"Does this policy put you on notice that certain people could be at risk of serious injury if multiple deployments upon their body are made?" the questioning continued. 

"Yes, ma'am," Burgamy confirmed. 

 Shawn Merzlak from the defense cross-examined Burgamy.

 "It says agencies should recognize, however, particularly where backed up deputies are unavailable multiple deployments may be necessary. It doesn't say they are necessary it says they may be necessary," Burgamy said

"So it's possible, it's kind of something that could be up to the officer's discretion based on the situation?" Merzlak asked. 

"Yes, sir," Burgamy replied. 

"It indicates that not more than one Taser should be used against somebody at the same time, correct? And you don't have any information that two Tasers were used on Mr. Martin at the same time, do you?" Merzlak said. 

"No, sir," Burgamy said.

 Lee Curtis Bentley was the second man to call 911 the day Martin died.

 When he took the stand Thursday, he described moments he remembers after the deputies interaction with Martin.

 "My wife said to me, 'They're going to kill him,' and I said, 'No, they wouldn't kill him,' but he was dead, and he just laid there, and one guy kind of kicked as his hood that the guy, I guess, was wearing, and kind of kicked it over his head, and it was like he was no more than a dead animal," Bentley said. 

The defense maintained deputies did not know about Martin's mental illness. They said the charges are misclassified as a homicide. Meanwhile, the state says that Martin committed no crime and exercised his constitutional right to walk away from the officers and caused him to lose his life.

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