CLEVELAND (AP) — A patrolman charged in the deaths of two unarmed people in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire acted unreasonably when he stood on the hood of their car and fired into the windshield when they were no longer a threat, prosecutors said Tuesday in closing arguments.
The defense countered that the pursuit and shooting were based on a belief that one occupant of the car had fired a gun and was shooting at officers when the high-speed chase ended in a school parking lot in November 2002.
Michael Brelo, 31, faces a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison if convicted on two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of driver Timothy Russell and passenger Malissa Williams. The judge who is deciding Brelo’s case has said he likely will not deliver a verdict before May 15.
The chase began after an officer standing outside police headquarters in downtown Cleveland mistakenly thought that someone had fired a gun when it sped by. Experts later concluded Russell’s car had backfired.
More than 100 officers in 62 police cars were involved in the chase, which stretched over 22 miles and reached speeds of 100 mph. Thirteen officers fired a total of 137 rounds at the car that night but only Brelo was charged criminally.
Prosecutors say he fired the last 15 of his 49 rounds after the suspects were trapped and had nowhere else to go. They say Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, were still alive when Brelo fired “kill shots” through the windshield.
Defense attorneys argued Tuesday that at least one other officer fired a gun during Brelo’s final volley and that shots fired by other officers could have killed Russell and Williams. Each was struck more than 20 times.
Brelo, who did not testify at trial, told investigators more than a week after the shooting that he did not remember standing on the hood of the suspects’ car. An officer who was a rookie in 2012 told investigators and testified at trial that Brelo said he stood on the hood hours after the shooting.
A number of police officers who also shot at the car invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify at trial.
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