Day 17: Defense rests in Officer Michael Brelo's trial

Day 17: Defense rests in Officer Michael Brelo's trial
Officer Michael Brelo is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the deadly chase and shooting. (Source: WOIO)
Officer Michael Brelo is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the deadly chase and shooting. (Source: WOIO)

The defense rested Thursday afternoon in the trial of Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo.

Brelo charged with voluntary manslaughter. He is accused of firing 39 shots at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams after a long chase in November 2012.

Defense attorneys did not call their final witness, a pathologist.

Testimony in the trial moved away from medical evidence to psychological Thursday. An expert who studies brain and behavior relationships in stressful situations was on the stand.

"What they were hearing, what they were seeing, what they were experiencing, things that they said," testified Dr. Douglas Johnson.

Dr. Johnson believes that Michael Brelo's actions at Heritage Middle School, where the chase ended, were reactions to stress brought on by a variety of things that would have prepared him for confrontation: the long chase, reports of shots fired, and as was read from Brelo's statement, the belief that shots from the Malibu were coming at him.

Dr. Johnson read that statement in court: "I was thinking why are they still moving, why haven't they stopped, why are they still shooting at us? I was also concerned the engine block was stopping our rounds."

Dr. Johnson works with United States military special forces, training them for the stressful confrontations they are likely to encounter in combat. He also analyzes the effects of combat on them when they return.

He says the fact that Officer Brelo remembers some details and does not remember others is not unusual.

"His inability to recall aspects of the event are consistent with individuals who experienced high magnitude life-threatening stress." Dr. Johnson testified.

"There are, I think, four other officers other than Officer Brelo who made statements that are consistent with what we consider at altered reality," said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson says stress plays a huge role in how people react to any situation, and the police chase that night had all the elements.

"The stressors are heightened when the stress is unpredictable, meaning this is not going according to plan and I didn't think this was going to happen," said Dr. Johnson.

"I couldn't more strongly disagree," testified Dr. James Knoll, a psychologist and rebuttal witness for the prosecution.

Knoll says Johnson's finding is flawed, in large part because Johnson did not conduct a face-to-face interview with Brelo.

Johnson had called it unnecessary.

"A personal face-to-face evaluation is going to be critical to illustrate details that might not be present in the record," said Knoll.

Prosecutors have said in increasingly stronger terms that Brelo's inability to remember being on the hood of the Malibu is an attempt by him to cover up his actions.

But on cross-examination he had to admit the opposite.

"Can you say with a degree of medical or scientific certainty that Officer Brelo malingered in this case?" asked defense attorneys.

"No," replied Knoll.

"I'm saying it's consistent with what we know about how memory unfolds over time following stressful events," testified Johnson.

There will be a final prosecution rebuttal witness on Friday.

Judge John O'Donnell has said he will take a day or two to review materials before hearing closing arguments, which will likely be Monday or Tuesday.

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