In the ongoing trial of five police officers charged with killing a New Orleans man in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, two of those charged have taken the stand in their own defense.
In testimony yesterday and this morning, New Orleans police officer Greg McRae explained his decision to burn the body of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who had been shot by police officer David Warren earlier that day.
"I had seen enough bodies," McRae said. "I had seen enough rot."
McRae testified that he did not know, at the time, that Glover had been shot by a police officer. He said he was motivated by exhaustion, the trauma of the storm, and the need to get the body away from the makeshift police station where he was based.
Glover's death was first detailed by ProPublica nearly two years ago, in an investigative partnership with the Nation Institute and the Nation magazine.
In June, the Justice Department indicted five officers in connection with the case. Warren has been charged with shooting Glover; McRae and Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann have been charged with beating three men who tried to help Glover, and then burning Glover's remains; and former Lt. Robert Italiano and Lt. Travis McCabe are charged with covering it up.
Last week, in the first day of testimony from the defense, Warren told the jury that he believed his life was in danger when he shot Glover on Sept. 2, 2005. Warren said that Glover was running toward him at the time, and that from the second floor balcony where Warren stood, it appeared that Glover was holding a weapon.
His partner that day, NOPD officer Linda Howard, testified earlier in the trial that Glover was actually running away from the strip mall where they stood -- not towards it -- when Glover was shot.
In testimony on Monday, Alan Baxter, an expert for the defense, testified that Warren's shooting was justified, and that Warren met the standard for firing his weapon, which requires the reasonable belief that his or someone else's life was in danger.
As our partners at the Times-Picayune explain, Baxter himself appeared to be on trial at times, as the prosecution picked apart his qualifications, noting that he has never published any articles about police procedure. Baxter says he is a former executive-level police commander with the United Nations, yet the U.N. has no record of his employment, the prosecution said.
A quick look at Baxter's background (PDF) shows that he's not an attorney, but was formerly a member of the Canadian Bar Association as well as two trial lawyers' groups in Washington State.
He's listed as a current member of the National Association of Police Chiefs, the American Correctional Association and the American College of Forensics. We called to confirm he's still a member, and learned that his membership in the first two expired earlier this year. The American College of Forensics doesn't give out information on its members, but says that anyone can join, as long as they pay the fees.
Baxter's testimony was based on a two-hour interview with Warren, he said. He did not speak with any other witnesses of the event.
In addition to saying that Warren's shooting of Glover was justified, Baxter also said that Warren was acting legally when he fired a warning shot at a man earlier in the day.
The NOPD's use of force guidelines, explicitly says, "Police Officers shall not fire warning shots." (We have posted the guidelines.)
Baxter testified that the guidelines were essentially suggestions rather than rules.
The trial is expected to continue at least through the end of the week. Check out nola.com for continued coverage.