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Case of man shot by Bourbon deputy now in jury's hands

At the end of the day, the federal jury in U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman's courtroom got the case — and a whole lot of loose ends.

The question before them is whether Bourbon County Sheriff's Deputy Ed Rodgers used unnecessary, unlawful and excessive force when he shot Robert Brewer in a field near Coulthard Lane on Sept. 12, 2007.

But there are also many small decisions about who is telling the truth about what. They must decide whether a slew of converging voices, opinions, facts and missteps make the moment Deputy Rodgers chose to fire his .40 caliber Glock pistol in the direction of Brewer an "objectively reasonable" thing for a police officer to do.

In closing arguments, the complexities loomed. What of the "lame joke" about the one-legged man that Rodgers made to the dispatcher as he was approaching the scene?

What about Rodgers calling the man "a yahoo"? Did that make him human, or was it proof that he was compassionless and angry?

Did Brewer tell Rodgers he had a gun? Did he threaten Rodgers? Did Rodgers warn Brewer before he fired? Did he fire twice, instead of once?

The testimony that preceded the closing arguments Wednesday served only to compound the problem.

It began when Brewer's attorney John Hafner asked Kentucky State Police Sgt. Jeremy Murrell, the officer who investigated the shooting, whether he knew the officers who were under investigation before the shooting. Murrell said he did. Hafner asked whether Murrell looked for a second bullet after he found one. Murrell said no, he stopped looking after one because Rodgers had said there was only one fired.

Hafner also elicited the information that Murrell had talked to Brewer at the University of Kentucky hospital seven hours after the shooting but waited 77 days to interrogate Rodgers.

When UK emergency room nurse Ashley Oney took the stand, she said that as Brewer's primary nurse that first night, she asked him why he was there. "He stated his wife had left him, he had pretended to have a gun, wanted to do himself harm and didn't know how, and didn't want to live."

She wrote those words down with other things that she and other nurses observed. Interviewed by Murrell later that night, she repeated what she'd heard.

The jury also heard from longtime Kentucky medical examiner Dr. George Nichols, now retired, who concluded, after examination of medical records, that Brewer took one bullet to the left wrist and right shoulder. He also found that the wound to Brewer's neck, which several doctors had identified as a gunshot, was too superficial — only a quarter-inch deep, with no detectable metal residue — to be a gunshot wound. Rather, it was a wound consistent with a stick being held like a rifle, horizontally at shoulder-height.

Lexington assistant police chief Michael Bosse, a former internal affairs officer who has reviewed thousands of use-of-force cases, appeared as an expert witness on behalf of the Bourbon County Sheriff's Department. Bosse said he found Rodgers' actions defensible, rebutting an expert's testimony from the day before. Dr. Michael Lyman, a criminal justice professor at Columbia College in Missouri, said Tuesday that Rodgers should have retreated and waited for backup.

But Bosse said he went to the site of the shooting in his Crown Victoria and tried to drop back tactically, as Lyman suggested. He found that it would have placed Rodgers in more peril, improving the range of the suspect who supposedly had a rifle.

The jury will continue to deliberate Thursday.

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