published Friday, October 11th, 2013

Jury hears paralyzed man's testimony in Hamilton County shooting case

Jean Martin, right, accompanies her son, Jerry Martin, as an ambulance crew rolls him into Judge Don Poole's courtroom Thursday to testify in the trial of Kevin Chitty for attempted second-degree murder. Chitty shot Martin in November 2011 after a traffic accident, leaving Martin on a ventilator and paralyzed from the chest down.
Jean Martin, right, accompanies her son, Jerry Martin, as an ambulance crew rolls him into Judge Don Poole's courtroom Thursday to testify in the trial of Kevin Chitty for attempted second-degree murder. Chitty shot Martin in November 2011 after a traffic accident, leaving Martin on a ventilator and paralyzed from the chest down.
Photo by John Rawlston.

The mechanical hiss of a ventilator underscored every word of Jerry Martin's testimony Thursday.

His body lay motionless, covered by a mound of blankets. A strap across his chest kept him from toppling out of the ambulance gurney that had carried him to Hamilton County Criminal Court.

"What injuries did you sustain as a result of the incident?" asked prosecutor Cameron Williams.

"Look at me, I'm paralyzed for life," Martin responded.

Nearly two years ago, on the night of Thanksgiving 2011, Kevin Chitty, 45, fired his handgun twice and both bullets struck Martin. One lodged in his neck, leaving him a quadriplegic -- unable to move anything but his mouth. The other bullet is in his jaw.

Today the father of three lives with his mother and can do little to pass the time but watch television.

The trial concluded late Thursday. The jury will return to court today to continue to deliberate charges of attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault against Chitty.

Williams and defense attorneys Lee Davis and Bryan Hoss have battled since the trial began Tuesday over whether Chitty acted in self-defense.

Moments before the shooting, Martin had rear-ended Chitty's Ford F-150 pickup truck with his Oldsmobile.

Martin, 37, testified that he backed up his car and then stepped out to check the damage. That's when, Martin said, Chitty got out of his car with a handgun, acting irate and cursing at him.

Martin told Williams he feared for his life, so he got back into his car and fled. That's when Chitty fired, as Martin was driving away.

But Chitty also testified, and he had a different account of what happened at the intersection of Bonny Oaks Drive and Jersey Pike.

Chitty said he stepped out of his truck with his handgun in his back pocket. He said Martin never got out of his car and that Martin pointed a gun at him.

In Chitty's truck were his two teenage sons and his 1-year-old grandson. In the car ahead of him at the traffic light were his wife and other family members.

He feared for his life and his family's safety, he testified.

That's why he fired.

Listening to his own 911 call in court Thursday, Chitty teared up and his voice began to crack as he answered questions.

His wife, Gloria Chitty, rocked side to side, dabbing away tears with a folded tissue. She sat surrounded by more than a dozen family and friends.

On the other side of the courtroom galley sat 10 of Martin's supporters. Criminal Court Judge Don Poole instructed the audience to sit separately after hearing reports on Wednesday that there had been bickering between the groups.

From the beginning of the trial, Davis has focused much of his questioning on Martin's criminal past and what Davis called a lack of cooperation with investigators.

Martin would not allow a police officer to take a blood sample from him while he was hospitalized following the shooting. He also stopped an interview with a Chattanooga police detective while in the hospital.

Hoss called the investigator, Sgt. Michael Wenger, to the stand, a rare move by defense attorneys. In closing arguments Davis pointed that out as the only way to show Martin's level of cooperation in the investigation.

At times Martin became agitated, his voice rising when questioned by Davis.

Davis challenged Martin's retelling of events, noting that he had been drinking alcohol prior to the car wreck, had no license and no insurance, as Martin acknowledged under cross-examination.

Those factors, combined with his criminal record, which includes multiple drug charges and a 2001 shooting in which he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for injuring two women in a car during an altercation at a barbecue, meant he would have been arrested had he been at the scene when police arrived, Wenger testified.

But Martin questioned the questioner.

"What that got to do with this man shooting me?" he asked. "I always know what happened. That man shot me over nothing."

When Chitty took the stand, the last witness in the trial, Williams challenged what he told police and the 911 operator about the shooting.

Chitty first testified that Martin had a gun and pointed it at him. He denied ever saying anything different.

But Williams played the 911 recording in which he first tells the operator that the man had a gun, then says he thought the man had a gun. The arriving police officer wrote in his report that Chitty told him, "I'm sorry, I thought he had a gun."

Martin was alone in his car when emergency workers removed him. No gun was found.

Jurors must decide whether Chitty acted reasonably under the circumstances.

Davis told the jury that Chitty did what any of them would do when confronted by a stranger in a car on a dark night, pointing a gun.

"It is a case of self-defense," Davis said. "Mr. Chitty, who's got family at stake, had to make a decision. He had the absolute right to use that weapon for deadly force. Even if his belief is mistaken."

But Williams countered in his final closing.

"That's not true; that's not true; the mistake has to be based on reasonable grounds," he said. "You have to have more than 'I thought I saw a gun.'"

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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