CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The death penalty trial of a man charged with killing two police officers opened Monday with an investigator admitting he threw away notes, a prosecutor taking the witness stand, and a defendant never uttering a word.
Demeatrius Montgomery, 28, who initially refused to appear in court, is on trial for the 2007 killings of Officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark, who were shot in a surprise attack at an east Charlotte apartment complex. He has pleaded not guilty.
In a courtroom filled with police officers and family of the victims as well as the accused, Judge Forrest Bridges spent the day sorting out pre-trial motions. Montgomery sat silently in an orange jail uniform, his arms and legs shackled. A deputy sat at arm's length behind him.
Much of the day focused on a motion calling for the case to be dismissed because of wrongdoing by a detective.
Arvin Fant, who was transferred out of the homicide unit Saturday, testified that he discarded some notes he took while investigating the shootings. In other notes, he said, he used another officer's writings to refresh his memory about interviews.
In several instances, Fant said he cut and pasted notes from another officer into his own notes. He explained that he was simply trying to rewrite his inadequate notes that were hard to read, then threw the originals away.
"I shouldn't have done it. It was a mistake on my part," Fant said. "But I didn't mean any bad intention."
Defense attorneys contended his actions violate N.C. laws that require sharing all evidence before a trial. They also claim that partial notes they did receive from Fant suggest another man who looked like Montgomery was spotted near the crime scene.
But Fant and prosecutors asserted that he hadn't discarded anything that would benefit Montgomery's case. Prosecutors called Fant's actions inexcusable, but also pointed out that his notes simply documented interviews that were also recorded, so no evidence has actually been lost.
Judge Bridges is expected to rule on the motion today.
In another twist, Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow was called to the stand to recount how she learned what Fant had done.
In late July, she said, Montgomery's attorneys asked her about inconsistencies in Fant's notes.
She met with Fant and his superiors. At one meeting, she said, Fant seemed defensive.
He phoned her the next day, saying he wanted to talk. She expected an apology for his previous demeanor. Instead, he revealed more details about discarding notes.
"At that point, I didn't ask him a single question. I knew I was in a predicament. I did not want to be called as a witness in this case," she said. "And I told him (defense attorneys) would be coming after him."
Fant is under investigation. Prosecutors said he admitted doing similar things with notes in other cases. Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who attended the trial, said he wants to wait for a ruling on the motion before commenting on Fant.
When the trial opened at 10 a.m., Montgomery refused to come out of his cell.
His attorney, Duane Bryant, told the judge his client has said virtually nothing about the crimes since he was arrested 31/2 years ago. And he continued his refusal to speak to them Monday.
"He made no comment, no reaction, he refused to get dressed," Bryant said. "My exact words (to him) were: 'Today's your trial date; you need to get ready to go.'"
Judge Bridges said he would not proceed without Montgomery. Before resorting to force, Bridges asked if Montgomery's family could persuade him to come to his trial.
An aunt was escorted back to speak to Montgomery. Soon after, the slight-framed defendant walked into the courtroom, with a light beard and his hair now closely cropped.
He wouldn't speak, even under questioning from the judge. He occasionally inclined his head to the left or made eye contact with family members sitting in the back of the court.
At one point, the judge instructed Montgomery to stand, then explained why it was important for him to speak up, ask questions and participate in his own trial.
"This is your case, this is not their case," Bridges said, referring to Montgomery's attorneys. "Because this is your case, you are in charge of the case."
He said he would take Montgomery's silence as his approval for his attorneys' actions in the trial.
After one break, attorney Bryant told the judge he believed Montgomery had indicated with a grunt that he did not want the lawyers assigned to his case.
Bridges again told Montgomery to speak up if he disagreed with something.
"Unless I hear otherwise from you, I'm going to operate under the assumption that you do not object to the things that your attorneys are doing," Bridges said.
Then he turned to Bryant: "He may not like you. He may wish he had some other lawyer representing him. But you are now married and you're required to live with each other for a while."