After nearly two hours behind closed doors, jurors left the courthouse Wednesday undecided about whether Carlos Antonio Riley is guilty of shooting a Durham police officer during a traffic stop three years ago.
Riley, 24, is accused of shooting Officer Kelly Stewart, 29, in the leg in December 2012.
As attorneys prepared for closing arguments Wednesday morning, uniformed and plainclothes officers took their seats behind the prosecutors’ table. Riley supporters and family members filled almost all the spots on the benches behind the defense table.
“On Dec. 18, 2012, a single gunshot wound changed the lives of two men forever,” said Assistant District Attorney Donya Strong.
Strong argued that Riley made choices that escalated the case from a traffic stop and a likely warning ticket for spinning wheels and “fishtailing” a sports car down the road to a shooting that shattered Stewart’s thighbone.
Those choices progressed from Riley acting suspiciously to trying to leave before the traffic stop was over, Strong said.
Stewart, trying to pull Riley from the car as it moved forward, was forced to jump into the car and pull the emergency brake, Strong said. Then, she said, Riley chose to fight as Stewart tried to handcuff him.
When Stewart pulled out his gun, and said, “Stop or I’ll shoot!” Riley chose to escalate the situation further, leading to the gunshot wound to Stewart’s leg. Riley then chose to drop Stewart out of the car, take his personal cell phone and leave the scene.
“Level by level, step by step, Carlos Riley escalated this situation choice, by choice, by choice,” Strong said.
Defense attorney Alex Charns contends Stewart pulled the trigger that resulted in the gunshot wound. He argued that Stewart pulled over Riley because he was black, but didn’t call it into police communications because he didn’t want to increase his already high traffic-stop statistics for pulling over African Americans.
Charns noted that the prosecutors’ witnesses were mostly law enforcement officers and asked the jury to consider whether they were protecting one of their own.
He also asked the jury to consider evidence that was not presented, including gunshot residue tests, medical expert testimony about the direction of the shot and photos of the inside of the small car Riley was driving.
He said Stewart’s face lacked injuries despite Stewart testifying he and Riley exchanged blows and that Riley lacked marks that Charns said should have been on his hands if he had fired the gun.
“The lack of pictures, the lack of evidence, the lack, the lack, the lack,” Charns said.
Riley is charged with careless and reckless driving, assault on a law enforcement officer inflicting serious injury, robbery with a firearm and two counts of assault with a firearm on a law enforcement officer.
Superior Court Judge James Roberson told the jury of 10 men and two women it could also consider lesser charges if jurors don’t think prosecutors met the burden of proving robbery with a firearm.
Riley, who is being held at the Durham County jail as a federal prisoner, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon in federal court in February 2014 and was sentenced to 10 years.