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VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS | COUNTYWIDE

Experts Say Deputy Was Not 'Executed'

January 08, 1998|RICHARD WARCHOL

In the first day of defense testimony Tuesday, two crime scene experts attempted to refute emotional testimony depicting an execution-style murder of Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy Peter Aguirre last July.

Defense attorneys concede that Michael Raymond Johnson, a 50-year-old, five-time felon, shot Aguirre as the rookie officer responded to a disturbance call at the defendant's Meiners Oaks home.

However, they contend that the evidence in the case does not support the prosecution's theory of premeditated, first-degree murder that saw the mortally wounded officer shot again at point-blank range.

On Tuesday, two defense experts in wound ballistics and crime scene reconstruction worked to dispute the prosecution's theory that Aguirre, 26, was shot in the head from 12 inches away as he lay incapacitated on the ground.

Both Dr. John Thornton, an expert in bloodstains and crime scene reconstruction, and Dr. Martin Fackler, an expert in the effects of bullet wounds, agreed that a bullet struck Aguirre in his head when it was about 13 inches off the floor.

However, they told jurors that the evidence is inconclusive as to whether that bullet was fired from close range or from a greater distance.

Even if the shot were fired from close range, Thornton said under cross examination that he still would not consider the shot a "coup de grace execution.

"It's not a contact wound," he told Deputy Dist. Atty. Matthew Hardy.

"How close does a muzzle have to be for you to consider a shooting like this to be an execution?" Hardy asked.

"I would say under 12 inches," Thornton answered, "and probably at some point where smoke would be evident on the skin of the victim."

Defense testimony is expected to conclude this morning.

Johnson is facing charges of murder and attempted murder for shooting Aguirre and firing his guns at other officers, as well as charges of kidnapping and spousal rape for allegedly holding his wife hostage before the shooting.

He could face the death penalty if convicted.

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