In gripping testimony Tuesday, a New Orleans woman described how she played dead afer being shot three times, then opened her eyes to see the attacker pointing a gun at the head of her sleeping mother-in law as the family dog lunged at him, knocking the weapon from his hand.
After the gunman escaped, Bertha Rogers crawled to the phone and dialed 911 before finding her husband dead in the living room. Rogers, 44, took the stand in the first-degree murder trial of William Allen, 37, of New Orleans, who is charged with killing William Harrell as he sat in a wheelchair March 9, 1997.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Jeffrey Smith attacked Rogers' credibility in identifying Allen as the gunman, saying that she had told the 911 operator she did not know who had shot her. But Rogers explained she wanted the operator to send immediate medical help and was trying to avoid lengthening the conversation.
"I just wanted them to get the bullets out of me," Rogers told the jury.
Smith then emphasized her earlier scrapes with the law, getting her to admit she'd served time in jail for felony shoplifting. She also admitted that Harrell was a cocaine addict, confined to a wheelchair because his drug habit had wasted his leg muscles.
"So you really don't know who shot William Harrell, do you?" Smith asked Rogers.
"I might be blind in my left eye but I know what I saw," she said, explaining that worsening glaucoma has cut her sight in one eye. "I saw the man over there shoot me," she added, pointing to Allen.
At one point, Rogers sobbed on the stand but spewed a stream of profanities. "Mister, I'm tired of your questions. You're badgering me!"
Assistant District Attorney John Jerry Glas, who is prosecuting the case with Steve Huber, repeatedly objected to Smith's questioning.
Criminal District Judge Sharon Hunter sometimes seemed aggravated by the attorneys' bickering, which included several objections by co-defense counsel Clyde Merritt.
"Y'all don't need me. Sit out there and fight," she said after one exchange between Smith and Glas.
Smith lambasted police work by Detective Terence Phillips, who testified that he did not retrieve fingerprints from two glasses on a living room table and did not review statements that Rogers allegedly gave to Charity Hospital employees, saying that three or four people burst into her home and attacked the couple.
Allen, whose first trial ended in a hung jury in July, told police that he was in the home the night of the killing, but said three or four people remained after he left. Glas countered that there were several errors in Charity's medical record, including Rogers' race, her age and the date of her admission. Glas asked Phillips rhetorically, "You didn't get fingerprints and did not review medical records that said she was a white woman. Does that change who the murderer was?"
By Rhonda Bell, Staff writer
Woman testified she played dead
Murder 2nd trial for suspect
After four hours of deliberations, an Orleans Parish jury unanimously agreed Wednesday to convict a New Orleans man of second-degree murder for killing a man confined to a wheelchair in October 1997.
William Allen, 37, will receive a mandatory life sentence for fatally shooting William Harrell, 43. It was the second time prosecutors tried Allen for first-degree murder with the intention of seeking the death penalty.
In closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutors John Jerry Glas and Steve Huber called the slaying a chilling act of violence, motivated by robbery.
Allen shot Harrell in Harrell's apartment in the Iberville public housing complex, while his wife and mother slept in a rear bedroom. Moments later, prosecutors said Allen shot Gloria Rogers, 44, Harrell's wife, three times as she lay in her bed.
Allen would have shot Harrell's mother, too, if the family dog had not knocked the 9 mm gun from his hands, prosecutors said.
Rogers survived to identify Allen, who she said was in their apartment visiting her husband when she went to bed the night of the shootings. She said Allen took a wallet she kept beneath her mattress. She said it contained cash from their disability checks, and Allen knew where it was hidden. After she was shot, she said, she felt her mattress lift and heard the gunman exclaim, "I got the money now!"
The jury foreman said after the trial that Rogers' testimony was the strongest factor in the jury's decision.
Defense attorneys Jeff Smith and Clyde Merritt had tried to diminish the impact of Rogers' testimony, saying she could not be sure who shot her husband because she was asleep. They also pointed out that Rogers could have been mistaken about who shot her because glaucoma has blinded her in one eye.
No physical evidence linked Allen to the crime, and Smith had hammered away at detectives for not retrieving fingerprints from two glasses on a living room table and reviewing Rogers statements to Charity Hospital employees that seemed to contradict her testimony.
"If it had been a tourist or an Uptown resident dead, police would have turned over every stone. There's no DNA here or fingerprints," he said.
Prosecutors bristled at Smith's charge that the shootings had not been properly investigated because "two black people were shot in the projects."
Glas said Smith's charge was a smoke screen to divert attention from the crime.
After Criminal District Judge Sharon Hunter read the verdict Allen waved to his mother, Ellen Allen, with a pained look on his face. She then hurriedly left the courtroom with her head bowed. It was the second time in three years she felt the loss of a child. In January 1996, her daughter. Sylvia, was gunned down on Robert Street. The man who shot her was convicted of manslaughter.
"Now I've lost my son, too," Ellen Allen said in a voice hardly above a whisper.
Glas and Huber said they were happy for Gloria Rogers, who had had to relive her nightmare on the stand a second time. "There are no happy endings in this building but sometimes there is justice," Glas said. "I'm pleased for Gloria Rogers even though nothing is going to bring her husband back.her husband back.
By Rhonda Bell, Staff writer
N.O. Man convicted of '97 murder