Former Culpeper police officer claims self defense in Patricia Cook shooting
Tuesday, Jan. 29
By Anita Sherman
Times-Democrat Staff Writer
The jury began deliberations Monday in the trial of former Culpeper police officer Daniel Harmon-Wright for the February 2012 shooting of Patricia Ann Cook.
At 2:20 p.m. on day five of the trial, the jury of eight women and four men retired to the jury room to begin their deliberations. One juror asked, “How long do we have?”
Judge Susan L. Whitlock replied. “As long as it takes...there is no rush or pressure.”
The jury's decision must be unanimous in the case of the Commonwealth versus Daniel Harmon-Wright charged on four counts in the death of Patricia A. Cook on Feb. 9, 2012.
“Our job is done...this case uniquely belongs to you,” said special prosecutor Jim Fisher in his closing remarks as he encouraged the jurors to pay special attention to the “credibility of the witness.”
“Key to your deliberations is his [Daniel Harmon-Wright] credibility...do you believe him...do you accept in whole or in part what is being said when considered with other evidence?”
Fisher elaborated on a list of what he referred to as a "catalog of inconsistencies" between Harmon-Wright's testimony on the stand and evidence presented.
Fisher disputes Harmon-Wright's claims of self defense in the fatal shooting of Patricia Cook that morning last February when he approached her in the parking lot annex of Epiphany Catholic School.
Responding to a 9-1-1 call, Harmon-Wright claims that Cook was uncooperative in relinquishing her drivers license, rolled up a window on his arm, attempted to sideswipe him as she left the parking lot and posed a danger to the community with her erratic driving while the windshield was covered with a sun visor.
After repeated attempts for her to stop what she was doing, Harmon-Wright felt compelled to shoot out the window (in order to free his arm) and continued shooting to 'eliminate the threat.'
Fisher contends that Harmon-Wright's actions were malicious, excessive, illegal, and constitute murder.
Seven bullets were fired at Cook's Jeep Wrangler that morning. Five hit her. Two proved fatal – the one to the back of the head and the other to her spine.
The prosecution is seeking murder in the first degree.
Daniel Hawes, attorney for Harmon-Wright, read his several page closing remarks stressing to the jury that they would need to sift through the evidence – none of which the defense feels can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Did he behave lawfully?” Hawes asked the jurors also emphasizing Harmon-Wright's repeated pleadings for her to stop or he would shoot.
“We pay cops and we give them guns to protect us...by doing what he did...he may have saved other lives...what he did worked,” said Hawes justifying Harmon-Wright's course of action as not only defending himself but also safeguarding the community.
Cook was, according to Hawes, a "fleeing felon" as assaulting an officer is a felony as is leaving the scene of a crime. Cook was not unarmed in Hawe's argument. While a weapon was not found on Cook or in the vehicle, Hawes claims that her vehicle was used as a weapon.
“There is no evidence of malice,” said Hawes. “He had the right to use force...this is not unlawful or malicious.”
If found guilty, the jury has three options: 1) first degree murder, second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
The former Culpeper Town police officer took the stand Friday afternoon on day four of the trial over the fatal shooting of 54-year-old Cook on the morning of Feb. 9, 2012.
Harmon-Wright broke down several times during his testimony recounting his actions that morning which led to her death.
Responding to a 9-1-1 call which had been placed from Epiphany Catholic School reporting a 'suspicious' vehicle in the annex parking lot, Harmon-Wright arrived to find Cook sitting in the drivers seat of a green Jeep Wrangler with her head back as if she were resting. A sun visor was in place in the windshield.
He explained to her that the school had phoned the police concerned about her presence in the parking lot as it was private property.
According to Harmon-Wright, Cook appeared confused that the 'suspicious' call was about her. He said there was something about her which was 'off putting' and 'odd.' Her attitude seemed aloof.
According to Harmon-Wright, the drivers side window was rolled about 4-5 inches down as he asked her for her identification.
Holding her drivers license in both hands close to her chest, Cook refused to surrender the license.
Harmon-Wright said that there was glare from the sun and he couldn't make out the information on the license but Cook began yelling, “No, no...you can't have it.”
“I reached in to grab the license,” said Harmon-Wright who then became alarmed as he claims she began to roll up the window on his arm and to move the vehicle forward.
“I was shouting the loudest I've ever yelled in my life,” stammered Harmon-Wright, “Stop...Stop...stop what you're doing.”
Harmon-Wright said that his left arm was caught in the window while his right hand was on the drivers door.
“I was trying to work my arm out of the window,” said Harmon-Wright adding that as he drew it out his hand was still stuck with the window cinching down tighter and tighter on his knuckles.
Then Harmon-Wright recounts that Cook started to move the vehicle forward in jerky motions as she was screaming, “no...no.” When she slammed on the brakes, he was thrown forward with his back coming in contact with the side mirror.
“She's trying to kill me with the car,” is what Harmon-Wright testified were his thoughts in those frantic seconds as he attempted to free himself from the vehicle.
He claims that Cook continued to accelerate and now he was shouting at her to stop or he would shoot.
“Stop...Stop...stop or I'll shoot,” he screamed at her at the same time that he jumped on the running board and his right hand found and discharged his weapon.
“I fired very fast,” said Harmon-Wright saying that he fired two rounds in quick succession which broke the glass and allowed his hand to be freed.
Harmon-Wright then recounted that he fell slightly but managed to stay on his feet.
With the vehicle still moving, Harmon-Wright said, “she's trying to side swipe me.”
“I knew she'd attack me with the car,” he continued now concerned that she might “possibly strike and kill somebody.”
Harmon-Wright then fired five more rounds into the vehicle.
When pressed by special prosecutor Jim fisher whether his intent was to shoot the driver, Harmon-Wright testified that his intent was to “eliminate a threat to the public.”
Contradicting earlier statements
Several of the statements that Harmon-Wright made during his testimony were of concern to Fisher.
On Wednesday, a recorded interview conducted by special agent Richard Shively with Harmon-Wright on the date of the shooting was played for the jurors.
In that interview, Harmon-Wright does not mention Cook's attempt to side swipe him.
Nor does he mention seeing a pedestrian on the street. But in Friday's testimony, he recalled seeing a pedestrian out of his “left peripheral vision” as the Jeep moved south on North East Street.
On Friday, Harmon-Wright said that he had discovered a small piece of glass in his thumb which his attorney, Daniel Hawes, offered as evidence.
That alleged injury was not mentioned during the initial interview.
“You didn't tell agent Shively that Cook slammed on the brakes,” said Fisher reminding Harmon-Wright that Shively had been very patient with him and asked him repeatedly for details. In fact, having him recount the incident at least three times.
“I was really, really upset that day,” said Harmon-Wright explaining the omissions. “I was thinking of my family, the political implications for the police department, Cook's family...I haven't gotten over it...I wish it never happened.”
Harmon-Wright added, however, that “Given the circumstances, I would have done the same thing.”