Saturday, September 22, 2001

Witness describes Roach as 'role model'

Closing arguments begin Monday

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Character witnesses took the stand Friday in defense of Cincinnati police Officer Stephen Roach, on trial in the April 7 shooting of Timothy Thomas.

        “Steve's the best,” said Cincinnati police Sgt. Brian Ibold, who supervised Officer Roach for a year while the two worked in Over-the-Rhine.

[photo] Police Officer Stephen Roach (right) talks Friday with his attorney, Merlyn Shiverdecker.
(Associated Press photo)
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        “Steve was a role model for some of the younger officers. He was also able to teach some of the older officers some things.” The sergeant described Officer Roach as an honest man who always showed good judgment.

        Officer Roach, 27, a four-year member of the force, faces misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and obstructing official business in the shooting death of Mr. Thomas, 19, who was fleeing police. He was not armed.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        Closing arguments are to begin at 1 p.m. Monday; Judge Ralph E. “Ted” Winkler will then begin his deliberations.

        Melford Edwards of Oxford was Officer Roach's coach when he played grade-school football. Mr. Edwards described the officer as a person of “good moral character.” He added that on the football field, he “played hard all the time but always by the rules.”

        Oxford Fire Chief Len Endress said Officer Roach was a volunteer dispatcher, firefighter and emergency medical technician. He described him as very mature, directed and dependable.

        Prosecutors also offered a rebuttal witness Friday.

        They recalled Cincinnati police Spc. Charlie Beaver to the stand. Spc. Beaver was one of two investigators who interviewed Officer Roach following the shooting.

        He said photographs presented by the defense did not accurately depict the shooting scene. He said the lighting was different because much of the foliage in the pictures was not there in the early morning hours of April 7.

        In addition, he said, some street lights that were working when the defense photos were taken were not working as well in April.

        Prosecutors have to prove that Officer Roach had a “substantial lapse of due care” when he shot Mr. Thomas. They also have to prove that the officer hindered or impeded the investigation into the shooting when he allegedly gave differing versions of what happened.

        The defense contends Officer Roach's actions were reasonable and in line with his training. It also contends his statements didn't interfere with or prevent investigators from doing their jobs.

        Officer Roach did not testify in his defense and his attorney, Merlyn Shiverdecker, said Friday that his client's testimony wasn't necessary.

        “We feel like we presented a pretty compelling case,” Mr. Shiverdecker said, adding that Officer Roach's version of what happened the day he shot Mr. Thomas was presented by the prosecution, which played his taped interviews with investigators in court.

        There are many reasons why a defense attorney might not put his client on the stand, experts said.

        “A defendant may make a horrible witness,” says William Gallagher, chairman of the board of directors for the Greater Cincinnati Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “They can be too (emotionally) involved in the case to do a decent job of conveying information.”

        Other legal experts say it would be a risk, considering the defendant would also have to answer questions from the prosecution.

        “A prosecutor would be chomping at the bit to get the defendant on the stand, especially in a case where a person is accused of making false statements. A prosecutor can pull those statements out and use them against a defendant,” says Fanon Rucker, a former assistant prosecutor with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office who works at the downtown law firm of Manley, Burke and Lipton.


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