The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

January 25, 2013

State rests its case in murder trial

Victim's mother takes the stand

By MARY RAINWATER
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — The state rested its case Thursday in the retrial of a 58-year-old Palestine man on trial for the shooting death of an Anderson County man almost four years ago.

Robert Lynn Pridgen was tried for the January 2009 shooting death of 40-year-old Paul Rohne in March 2011, however, the trial was declared a mistrial after the jury indicated it was hopelessly deadlocked at 8-4.

Thursday’s witnesses by the state included Larry Warrick, who at the time of the shooting was an investigator for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. Patsy Gage, Rhone’s mother, also testified Thursday.

Also taking the stand were forensic scientists from the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Austin, Calvin Story, Meghan Blackburn and Emma Baker, who specialize in firearms, fingerprinting and DNA analysis, respectively.

The state, led by First Assistant District Attorney Stanley Sokolowski, called Warrick as its first witness of the day, asking him to testify about his work at the scene of the shooting.

“Part of my job was to gather evidence — to assist in mapping the general layout of the house and to look at the body and the way it was positioned,” Warrick testified. “(Rohne) was seated on the loveseat, slumped to the right with both hands near his temple — the left hand on his glasses and a knife in his right hand.”

The knife, Warrick stated, was not being gripped by the victim but was “cupped” in the victim’s right hand and easy to retrieve — something the officer stated he found “odd.”

“I remember it was a very heavy knife. The blade was open,” he said. “When I retrieved it, it just fell into my hand. I have never seen anything like that. (Something that heavy) is usually not in the (holder’s) hand, but has fallen out.”

On cross-examination, defense attorney Jeff Haas questioned Warrick about the “21-foot rule” of law enforcement which states that if there is less than 21-feet between the officer (with holstered gun) and a subject with a knife approaching, the officer is in greater danger and can take measures to protect themselves.

Haas said that in extreme circumstances, if recognizing a threat, an officer can draw his sidearm and fire two rounds at center mass (the chest). The rule is commonly taught among all areas of law enforcement, Haas continued.

Warrick confirmed the defense attorney’s statements on the 21-foot-rule.

Gage testified that she talked with her son the day before the shooting. She also was questioned about whether Rohne was left or right-handed.

“He was without question left handed,” she testified. “It became a family joke — he always had to be seated where his elbow would not end up in someone’s plate.

“I never saw him do anything significant with his right hand,” she said.

Other testimony highlights include:

• Calvin confirmed, through testing, that the shotgun entered into evidence was the one used by Pridgen in the 2009 shooting and that the distance between the end of the gun (muzzle) and Rohne’s chest was “greater than one foot and less than 10 foot” from Rohne at the time of the shooting.

He also testified that a shotgun shell found at the scene and tested in his lab was the one used to kill Rohne.

• DNA analyst Baker confirmed she had tested swabs from portions of the shotgun and knife found at the crime scene, and while she did extract DNA from submitted swabs, she was unable to obtain a complete DNA profile.

“From the trigger on the shotgun we found DNA and made a comparison,” she said. “We determined that while it was a partial profile, we were unable to exclude Pridgen but did exclude Mr. Rohne (as having touched the trigger).”

The defense was set to begin calling its witnesses at 9 a.m. today in the district courtroom (second floor) at the Anderson County Courthouse with 87th State District Judge Debra Oakes Evans presiding.

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Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at mrainwater@palestineherald.com