Murder trial enters final stages
April 6, 2006
AUBURN ” A full courtroom listened intently to closing arguments Thursday morning in the murder trial of Timothy Brooks.
Judge Robert McElhany told the jurors they have the job of deciding whether Brooks is innocent or guilty of first or second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter. The jurors must also decide on a special allegation of whether they think Brooks used a “dangerous and deadly weapon.”
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Cattran said Brooks should be convicted of first degree murder for fatally stabbing Robert Ash last August outside Syd’s Bagelry in Tahoe City.
“This is the State of California versus Timothy Brooks. It could also be called the murder of Robert Ash,” Cattran told the 12 jurors and three alternates. “This is not a whodunit. The defendant stabbed and killed Robert Ash.”
Cattran stated that Brooks was the aggressor in the fight between him and Ash that preceded the stabbing, and that Brooks admitted to spitting in Ash’s face. He also noted that Brooks never said he was scared for his life, but that he just didn’t know what Ash “was going to do.”
“Even if you believe his story ” he used more force than reasonably necessary against a fist,” Cattran said. “He brought a knife to a fist fight. Robert didn’t want to fight.”
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Cattran also noted that the prosecution called seven witnesses to say what they saw happen between Ash and Brooks ” which has been the main point of contention in this trial ” and that the defense only called Brooks to the stand to give his side of what happened.
“Do not check your common sense at the door,” Cattran told the jurors. “This is all common sense. You know the defendant is guilty of murder.”
Lead prosecutor Cattran, who gave his argument in about an hour, said no witnesses saw Ash hit Brooks and that there is no evidence that Brooks had a black eye. He said Brooks went with the intent to kill Ash.
Cattran ended his Power Point presentation with a photo of Brooks and a quote from a witness that said a murderer looks “just like you and me.”
Defense attorney Marcus Topel played up Brooks’ and Ash’s character traits presented during the trial for his closing arguments. He noted that his client has “never been in trouble his whole life,” while Ash was a “violent guy.”
Topel said there was “no question” that Brooks and his wife, Susie, were going to Tahoe City to go shopping and that they just happened to see Ash’s car parked outside of Syd’s that morning.
“You will have to decide if Tim Brooks is a truthful person,” Topel told the jury. “He’s a modest, honest, truth-telling man. You have to make the decision of whether to believe him or not.”
Topel stated that Janine Rutherford, a retired sheriff’s deputy, told a detective after the Aug. 17 incident that she saw Ash “take a confrontational posture” towards Brooks, although she said on the stand that Ash held his hands in a defensive manner.
“It’s tragic Mr. Ash died, but it doesn’t mean Tim committed a crime,” Topel said, noting that his client wrote an apology to Ash after the incident.
That Brooks stabbed Ash only once “is the single most important fact in this case to negate the intent to kill,” said Topel, who argued his case for two and a half hours.
“The stab itself doesn’t show anything about murderous intent,” Topel said.
The lead defender repeated again and again to the jury that they should ask for testimony to be read to them if they have any doubt about what was said and reiterated that they should rely on what the witnesses said to the police right after the incident instead of what they said on the stand in court.
Many of the eyewitnesses the prosecution called to the stand said they saw Ash with his hands in a “defensive posture,” while the defense maintains Ash had his fists up to fight Brooks.
Cattran, who was given an opportunity to respond to the defense, noted that officers of the law make mistakes and that some of the reports the detectives wrote up contained some errors.
He also said that the defense’s characterization of Ash being aggressive is “hog wash.” Cattran noted that Brooks said he honked at Ash and flipped him off when Ash passed Brooks and his wife on Highway 89.
“If Robert was a person who was so easy to enrage, he would have pulled over and confronted him there,” Cattran said. “But it is the defendant that tracks him down. It’s the defendant that confronts him.”
In his 45-minute rebuttal, Cattran responded to what Topel said including that Brooks told a sergeant the day after the fight that his cheek was sensitive to the touch but in court he said Ash hit him on the side of the head.
“He can’t even figure out where he was hit,” Cattran said of Brooks. “Was it his temple or cheekbone?”
Although the defense had said the knife that Brooks used to stab Ash is a fishing knife, Cattran said that description in inaccurate.
“This is no fishing knife. This is a dagger,” Cattran noted. “It’s a diving knife. You have this when you are swimming around and need help. You don’t filet fish with this. Why was it in his [car] door? Why wasn’t it with his fishing gear?”
Cattran closed his arguments by saying that there is more than enough evidence in the case to convict Brooks on a count of first degree of murder.
At 3:30 p.m., McElhany instructed the 12 jurors to keep an open mind when they are deliberating and said they all must come to a unanimous decision on the verdict and if guilty, to the degree of guilt. The jurors were released to the jury room to pick a foreman and the three alternates were excused.
McElhany said when the jury is finished deliberating that he will give lawyers 20 minutes to return to the courtroom.