By SEAN I. MILLS Sentinel staff writer
ENTERING COURT ¿ Wearing a suit instead of county jail garb, Christian Patterson is escorted into Oneida County Court in Utica this morning on the opening day of his trial for murder. His hands were cuffed behind his back. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)
TEARS FROM DEFENDANT ¿ On trial for murder, 41-year-old Christian Patterson of Knoxboro reacts to things being said about him during opening arguments at his trial today. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)
RELIVING NIGHTMARE ¿ Lauren Wyman of Franklin Springs, the widow of Deputy Kurt B. Wyman, closes her eyes as the details surrounding her husband's death emerge in Oneida County Court in Utica this morning. She is flanked by her parents. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)
No one will ever know what Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputy Kurt B. Wyman was thinking in the moments before his death as he moved in on a gunman in Augusta.
But according to prosecutors, they know exactly what the accused shooter, Christian M. Patterson, had on his mind.
"I’m locked and loaded. I have my guns. I’m not going to jail. I’m not leaving my house."
According to First Assistant District Attorney Michael A. Coluzza, Patterson made that statement to a friend who was trying to calm him down on the night of June 6, only hours before Patterson is accused of shooting Deputy Wyman. Patterson had just gone through a violent domestic dispute with his longtime girlfriend, and Coluzza said that Patterson was "angry."
Coluzza kicked off the first day of Patterson’s aggravated murder trial this morning by describing the domestic dispute, the ensuing stand-off and the fatal shooting in great detail to a jury of six men and six women.
Both the opening statements of Coluzza and Chief Public Defender Frank J. Nebush focused on Patterson as a man, and the way each side saw him.
Coluzza described the defendant as a man who "doesn’t back down," and responds "angrily whenever he felt he was being challenged."
Nebush said Patterson was "a normal guy" who just "wanted a family," and that he "was a home improvement guy," and was building a house together with his longtime girlfriend, Shannon Secor, and their son, Christian Jr.
Next week, the jury will hear from Patterson himself as he is expected to take the stand in his own defense.
Patterson, age 41, is charged with one count of aggravated murder of a police officer, two counts of attempted aggravated murder of a police officer and one count each of fourth-degree possession of a weapon and second-degree harassment. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted.
The jury will hear from Deputy Wyman’s friends, family and co-workers to testify on his behalf.
The first witness this morning was Deputy Wyman’s father, Brian Wyman, who told the jury that his son was happily married and had served overseas in Iraq. Brian Wyman testified that he was working in Buffalo on the night his son was killed, and that he learned of the death in two telephone calls from his wife Lynnette.
"Once to say Kurt had been shot, and the second one to let me know he had died," Wyman told the jury. "I got in my truck and I went."
Also expected to take the stand today is Shannon Secor, who will testify about the domestic dispute on Knoxboro Road in Augusta that eventually lead to the shooting of Deputy Wyman.
Coluzza told the jury that the dispute started because Patterson could not handle the fact that his 19-year relationship with Secor was coming to an end, that she had been seeing someone else.
"The defendant could not and would not accept that the relationship was ending," Coluzza told the jury. The dispute turned physical as Patterson shoved Secor around the house, Coluzza said, and soon Secor realized she was "fighting for her life."
Coluzza described how Patterson threatened to kill his girlfriend. Other witnesses will include a neighbor who helped Secor escape, and Christian Jr., who was texting for help from friends while the argument was going on.
One of those friends eventually telephone Patterson directly, Coluzza said. While trying to tell Patterson to back down, Patterson replied, "I’m locked and loaded. I have my guns. I’m not going to jail. I’m not leaving my house," Coluzza told the jury.
A next door neighbor called 9-1-1, and Deputy Wyman was the first officer on the scene.
"The rest of his life could be measured, not in years and decades, but in minutes and hours," Coluzza told the jury. Wyman had no idea that he was on his last shift.
"Little did he know that he would meet a man named Christian Patterson."
Coluzza told the jury that Wyman found Patterson in his garage, sitting on a stool and with his hand on the trigger mechanism of a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun.
"It appears that Kurt Wyman is met with aggression," Coluzza said. "Caused Deputy Wyman to go on full alert."
What would ensure was a six-hour stand-off during which Patterson repeatedly refused to surrender to negotiators from the Sheriff’s Office, Coluzza stated. Patteron would only respond "nope" and "not gonna happen" to any attempt to get him to take his hand off the trigger and to put the gun down.
Eventually, the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team was called to the scene. While negotiations were ongoing, the officers began to form a plan to take down Patterson with less-than-lethal, hard-foam rounds. The ERT would fire, but Coluzza said that Wyman was also given an order.
If the ERT goes in, "Kurt should be prepared to enter behind the ERT...with your Taser," Coluzza told the jury. Wyman was the only officer on the scene with a Taser.
At 2 a.m. on the morning of June 7, Coluzza said that Patteron grabbed a jacket off the wall of his garage and started putting it on. For the first time that night, Patteron took his right hand off the trigger mechanism in order to put his arm through the sleeve.
That’s when the order was given to fire.
Two hard foam rounds hit Patterson in the abdomen, "knocking the wind out of him." But because Patterson was against a wall, he didn’t fall off his stool and grabs for the trigger again.
"Kurt Wyman, tragically at this point, is already in motion," Coluzza stated. "We’ll never know for certain, because he can’t tell us, what he was thinking in that moment."
Coluzza said maybe Wyman took the order to ‘go’ as an order for himself.
"With the Taser drawn, he steps onto that threshold, but the ERT guys aren’t in front of him," Coluzza said.
A superior officer on the scene screams out "No!"
"The defendant is angry, and he turns the gun on the most convenient target," Coluzza said. "The officers see Kurt’s body snap backwards and fall."
Coluzza told the jury that Patterson fired twice more at the officers, and with a pump action shotgun, he had to actively reload each of the rounds before firing.
Several deputies returned fire, disarming Patterson.
"This was a gunfight," Coluzza told the jury.
According to defense attorney Nebush, however, Patterson did not intend to shoot Wyman.
Nebush said getting shot with the hard-foam rounds "is like getting kicked in the chest by a horse."
He said Patterson was not aiming at anyone.
"He didn’t know Deputy off."
In his opening statement, Nebush acknowledged that Patterson "had his flaws" and was "reckless" that night, but he never intended to kill Deputy Wyman.
Nebush focused on the tactics and the response of the Sheriff’s Office. He said Patterson was dressed in only a t-shirt and cut-off jeans, and had been sitting on that stool for six hours.
"Time was on the side of the deputies," Nebush said, suggesting to the jury that the Sheriff’s Office should have just waited Patterson out.
"He never, during this whole confrontation, he never pointed that gun at anybody."
Nebush criticized the Sheriff’s Office for even letting Wyman so close to the scene.
"Wyman should not have been with ERT," Nebush said. Wyman "wasn’t trained to be there. He wasn’t ERT. Why did they leave him there?"