June 14, 2007
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer
The lawyer for a Hartford police officer awaiting trial on manslaughter charges failed Wednesday to get his client's case returned to a grand jury for reconsideration.
Attorney Michael Georgetti argued in Hartford Superior Court that the grand jury did not hear vital exculpatory evidence that may have prevented a recommendation that charges be brought against Hartford police Det. Robert Lawlor.
Lawlor is charged in the May 2005 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Jashon Bryant.
To avoid a conflict of interest for Hartford prosecutors, who work closely with Hartford police, Waterbury State's Attorney John Connelly led the investigation and recommended Lawlor be charged.
Georgetti said Connelly did not disclose evidence that Lawlor was in imminent danger and had a right and a duty to use deadly force.
Bryant was a passenger in a car parked in a North End lot when Lawlor and Dan Prather, an agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, approached.
The officers were part of a task force trying to remove illegal guns from the streets. They saw Bryant and another young man with what they believed was a gun.
Lawlor and Prather approached the car and ordered the occupants out. The driver, Brandon Henry, started the car and pulled away, and Lawlor opened fire.
Bryant was killed instantly; Henry suffered a gunshot wound to the chest and crashed into a parked car several blocks away.
Lawlor told investigators he opened fire when he saw Bryant reaching for what he believed to be a gun, but police did not find a weapon.
Prather told the grand jury that he never felt that his life was in danger as he stood beside the car.But in an ATF report about the incident, supervisor Dennis Turman wrote that Prather said he was standing in front of the car and dived out of the way "fearing imminent serious injury or death" when it accelerated. That statement was filed May 8, 2005, the day after the shooting.
Georgetti contended Wednesday that, because the grand jury did not hear about Prather's statement to Turman, its findings were flawed.
"The grand jury needed all exculpatory evidence to make an informed decision," said Georgetti, who asked Judge Joseph Q. Koletsky to grant an evidentiary hearing or refer the case back to the grand jury to hear further evidence.
"A grand jury was misled, fed wrong information and came up with the wrong conclusion." Georgetti said.
New Haven prosecutor Michael Dearington argued that Prather's statement would not have affected his office's finding of probable cause to charge Lawlor.
As he led up to denying both of Georgetti's requests, Koletsky said that the defense would be free to raise the question of the conflicting statements to impeach Prather's testimony at trial and added that the court could not legally compel a grand jury to reconsider evidence.
"There is no evidence that the statement was false or willfully excluded," Koletsky said.
Lawlor is due back in court July 11.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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