Experts testify in Neilson trial
SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa -- Jury members in Dickinson County District Court watched a video recording of the initial interview between Kenneth George Neilson Jr. and a law enforcement officer during Wednesday's trial proceedings.
Neilson, on trial for involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm for the shooting death of Worthington resident Marlan Lutterman, appeared flustered and distraught in the video, taken just after the shooting.
He told the deputy he had been cleaning his .357 Colt Python, then picked it up with his right hand while holding a holstered 9 mm. He said he started to drop the Python because he had gun oil on his hands, and in an effort to catch it, tried to sandwich the gun with the holstered weapon is his other hand. As one hand slid over the other, it must have cocked the gun, he stated.
"The next thing I knew, it just went off," he said. "I should have just let it hit the floor."
Several times during the interview, Neilson asked the deputy if he had hit someone and what that person's condition was. The deputy was unable to answer.
"I've never had a gun discharge like this before," Neilson said. "I'm real careful with them."
He told the deputy that the gun in question had a hair trigger.
It was a very full day in court, with testimony from eight people. Starting out the day were the two men who were out for a motorcycle ride with Lutterman on July 29, 2007, the day he died.
Stanley Adams spoke of a loud noise, then hearing Lutterman say he had just been shot. Adams was the first one to call 911.
Paul Fischer testified to moving his motorcycle after Lutterman had fallen in order to give the ambulance room to pull in. Fischer, fighting tears, also spoke of a friendship with Lutterman that had begun at age 5.
Testimony was heard from the jail administrator who had stepped in to help the dispatcher and ended up answering the 911 call from Neilson. The jury listened to the call and heard Neilson tell the jail administrator he was angry about what had happened, but not hurt. Neilson did not know at the time that the bullet had hit anyone.
Michael Tate of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), who led the crime scene team, spoke of searching the apartment, finding a variety of handguns and long guns, all unloaded or rendered safe, and examining the window with the bullet hole. He determined that the shot went through the window at a three-degree downward angle.
Defense attorney Edward Bjornstad questioned how Tate had come up with his figures and asked if the measurements and tools used to determine the angle were best estimates.
"I have used these before," Tate replied in a slightly angry voice. "I believe I got them in the right spot."
"Trajectory is an imprecise science," Bjornstad commented.
"Is that a question?" Tate asked. "It is as accurate as I could make it with the equipment I have."
The day wrapped up with testimony from DCI criminalist Victor Murrillo, a firearms expert. He stated the bullet from Lutterman's body and the shell casing found in the apartment were both from Neilson's Python, that the gun required more than 9 pounds of pressure for a double action shot and slightly more than 3 pounds of pressure for single action.
Murillo told the jury about several tests he had performed and scenarios he had created after reading the statements Neilson made.
"If Mr. Neilson would have barely gotten a hold of the grip (of the gun), what effect would the recoil have had?" Iowa Assistant Attorney General Virginia Barchman asked Murrillo.
"Without a good grip, it would actually flip over and out of the hand," Murrillo replied.
Testimony continues today with cross examination of Murrillo.