Murder Trial Ends, but the Mystery Doesn't

By Michael Brick

The New York Times
February 4, 2006

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To the satisfaction of 12 jurors, Marlon Legere was proved guilty of first-degree murder this week for killing two police detectives. The verdict was a triumph for prosecutors, a comfort for police officers and the close of a miserable chapter for the families of his victims. But a central mystery remains, and may always remain: How did a 28-year-old ex-convict sitting in the driver's seat of a Mazda 626 on East 49th Street in Brooklyn take a gun from two strong, experienced detectives, shoot them both dead and escape the scene? A modern folk myth, gleaned from television crime shows and reinforced by the presence of surveillance cameras in everyday life, holds that all human events can be reconstructed in instant replay.

In truth, when the gruesome accounting of bullet trajectories, powder marks and blood spatters is done, answers can be permanently, maddeningly elusive.

"The stuff we see on 'C.S.I.' is great, if we had it in real life," said Vernon J. Geberth, an investigations consultant and former commander of the Bronx Homicide Task Force.

"People have actually come to believe they're going to see that, all these great visuals, and that kind of puts prosecutors behind the eight-ball."

The primary issue in the criminal case against Mr. Legere was his state of mind, jurors said in interviews. Ultimately, his claim of self-defense was rejected. He faces a possible sentence of life imprisonment.

Still, the chronology of the struggle for the gun remains unknown. Those missing moments counted little in the language of the law, but in life they decided the fates of two men. Between them, Detectives Robert L. Parker and Patrick H. Rafferty had 37 years of experience and 800 arrests.

Both Detective Parker, 43, and Detective Rafferty, 39, stood more than six feet tall. Detective Parker weighed 383 pounds, according to the medical examiner, and Detective Rafferty weighed 188.

On Sept. 10, 2004, when they came to arrest Mr. Legere for a misdemeanor, he was unarmed. He was sitting behind the wheel.

The detectives approached side by side - or not. Their guns were drawn - or holstered. It was dark, and different witnesses remembered the details differently.

There was a struggle, and Detective Rafferty dropped his handcuffs and his Police Department pay stub into the Mazda. Mr. Legere took Detective Parker's 9-millimeter Glock handgun. Eight bullets left the gun. In testimony at State Supreme Court, Dr. Barbara A. Sampson, the city's first deputy chief medical examiner, mapped the damage.

One bullet entered Detective Parker's left upper chest, pierced his left lung and his left pulmonary artery - the major vessel that carries blood to the lungs - and then lodged in his back. A second entered his left shoulder, pierced the muscle there and lodged in the muscles in the back of his neck. A third and a fourth entered his right leg, breaking the fibula and tibia bones.

A fifth bullet hit Detective Rafferty's left upper chest, traveled through a rib, entered the chest cavity through a lung, pierced the main pulmonary artery and the aorta, then lodged in the left upper back. A sixth entered his right lower abdomen through his hip muscles and lodged in his middle back. A seventh entered the back of his right thigh, exited, grazed his scrotum, entered his left thigh and lodged there. The eighth grazed his chest.

After the shooting, Detective Parker told an emergency operator where to find a photograph of his killer. Detective Rafferty put a bullet through Mr. Legere's foot as the killer fled. In court, prosecutors displayed more than 70 crime scene photographs, augmented with diagrams of the detritus of the struggle, the landing places of Police Department business cards, bloodstains and the like.

Still, defense lawyers could credibly present alternate explanations for the path of each bullet, and Dr. Sampson acknowledged each in turn as plausible. Allowing for those alternate paths were implications for where each man was standing, sitting or kneeling, swinging, grabbing or falling.

"There's no way I can determine from the autopsy the sequence of events," Dr. Sampson said. As the jury deliberated, a prosecutor said he hoped its members would not have come to expect the sort of re-enactments common in television fiction.

Demonstrating the limitations of memory and forensic science, the prosecutor, Mitchell C. Benson, quickly hit a reporter on each shoulder three or four times.

"What just happened?" Mr. Benson asked.

In his closing arguments, Mr. Benson had given a different demonstration to make a different point.

As another prosecutor sat in a chair staring at the jury, Mr. Benson mimed attempting to handcuff him. Each time Mr. Benson grabbed a wrist, his partner shifted his free hand to Mr. Benson's belt, formed a handgun with his index finger and mimed pulling the trigger.

"Once he gets the gun," Mr. Benson said, "it's all over, folks."

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