Is former Town of Culpeper police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright a murderer? Or did he shoot to death a 54-year-old woman to protect himself and the public? That's what a circuit court jury will likely decide sometime in the next week or so.
Special prosecutor Jim Fischer conceded to the jury that the behavior of homemaker Patricia Cook last Feb. 9th was somewhat inexplicable: she parked her car in a lot at Epiphany Catholic School, and refused to leave even when requested to by the school administrator.
Both sides agree when Officer Harmon-Wright arrived, Cook declined to hand over her driver's license when the policeman reached for it.
The jury on Wednesday watched a 45-minute long video recording in which the former cop tells a Virginia State Police investigator the woman rolled up her window, and began driving away, trapping him by his knuckle and wedding ring.
"I felt my life was in danger," the defendant told the state police investigator two hours after the shooting.
But prosecutor Fischer told the jurors the former policeman kept firing after the car moved away from him, hitting Patricia Cook in her spine and the back of her head. The policeman's actions were "unjustified, excessive" and amount to murder, said the Commonwealth's Attorney.
Defense lawyer Daniel Hawes said his client warned the woman repeatedly he would shoot unless she stopped her car, and Patricia Cook did not comply with the uniformed policeman's instructions.
Both sides in this case agree on a detail that the defense is using. When Patricia Cook was parked in the Catholic school lot, she had a metallic sunscreen deployed across her windshield. When she pulled away, it was still there.
The defense says: when she reached the street, she was heading to the center of town, effectively driving blind. The policeman had to make an instant decision, and chose to keep shooting, in part, because she was a "threat to the public," according to attorney Hawes.