The Trial: Day 2

Day 2, Dec. 15, 2004

ATLANTA – Three witnesses testified Wednesday about threats made by Jason Futch, and two said that after Futch threatened to kill them, they saw him raise a 12-gauge shotgun to his shoulder and fire one shot at close range in the direction of Mike Weaver.

The buckshot went only about 8 feet, through two doors, before it struck Mike on the left side, and he was declared dead a short time later at Grady Memorial Hospital.

A total of four witnesses testified Wednesday in Futch’s murder trial, which began at 1 p.m. and is being conducted before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Tom Campbell. Futch is charged with murder and seven other crimes after he launched a rage-induced verbal assault in the early morning hours of Aug. 16, 2003.

The witnesses were all young men who were present that night, and they all told similar stories about the tragic events of the evening.

The first witness was Michael Smith, 22, of Valdosta, a lifelong friend of Mike’s. They played baseball together at Vine Ingle Little League, went through Miller Middle and Central High schools together in Macon, and lived together for a year when both young men were attending Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville.

Smith said he and Mike had planned for some time to go to a free concert in Atlanta. Smith left home about noon on Friday, Aug. 15 and drove to Milledgeville and picked up Mike, and then Smith drove on to Atlanta, where they were to stay with friends. They arrived about 6 p.m.

He said they had been invited to stay at the apartment of a friend they’d met in Milledgeville, who was now living in Atlanta. They went to the person’s apartment in a complex not far from Lenox Square Mall. That person was originally from Brunswick, and Jason Futch was his roommate.

There were nearly a dozen people there that night, some of them Mike’s fraternity brothers, others friends of Brunswick people Mike and Michael didn’t know. Most of those there that night were drinking beer, including Futch. Since the group had been drinking, no one wanted to drive so they took MARTA – the Atlanta commuter train – from the apartment to downtown Atlanta, where they enjoyed the concert.

Afterwards, they split up into small groups; some went to restaurants to eat, others went back to MARTA, but they all eventually ended up back at the apartment in the early morning hours of Aug. 16.

Smith said he’d had some beer at the concert, and at some point he said he went to his car to retrieve a sleeping bag. But when he got to the car, he crawled in the back seat and went to sleep. He did not know what had happened in the apartment after that and slept through the shooting and all of the commotion afterward. He awoke early the following morning and knew nothing about what had happened.

He tried to call Mike on his cell phone. He called other people, and finally found out about the shooting.

The next witness was Patrick Leonard, 25, another person at the apartment that night. Patrick was a good friend of Mike’s, and the two had met through mutual friends at Georgia College. After reviewing the concert trip, Patrick described what happened in the apartment.

He said the guys were relaxing, some were preparing to go to bed, while others were watching television. Some of the guys were goofing around, tipping over chairs with people sitting in them and playfully wrestling. Mike was in one of those chairs, and his was tipped over by Jason and Patrick, who said Jason and Mike had never met before.

Mike got up and Jason started wrestling with him. Mike got him on the floor and pinned him, which sent Jason into a rage.

Patrick said Jason told Mike to get off of him “or he’d kill him.” Others in the room picked up on the threat, and after Mike got up and backed away on his own, Patrick stepped between the two and tried to cool Jason down. Mike wasn’t angry, but was apologetic, according to one witness. But despite that, Jason hurled threat after threat at Mike. According to Patrick, Jason said: “I’m going to fucking kill you. Get the fuck out of my face.”

Mike was directed to get away and was sent to a bathroom, and he closed the door. Jason was in a position to see where Mike had gone, but he would not calm down.  Jason went to his bedroom, which was directly across a hall from the bathroom, and Patrick followed, joined by another of the boys there. “I was not going to let him fight Mike,” Patrick said.

Patrick said when he went into the room Jason was standing there holding a 12-gauge shotgun, which he’d retrieved from his closet. The defense attorney said the gun had once belonged to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Department, but that Jason’s dad had bought it, reconditioned it and had given it to Jason.

“I’m going to kill Mike,” Jason was reported to have said. Patrick and the other boy tried to talk to Jason. At one point Patrick grabbed the barrel of the gun and pointed it to the ceiling, away from anyone.

Patrick and the other boy continued to try to calm him down, but Jason screamed at Patrick, “You don’t know me,” and threatened them. Jason pointed the gun at both of them – “the gun was pointed at my face,” he said — and told them they had three seconds to get out of the way or he’d shoot them.

After his threat to the two boys he raised the gun to his shoulder, aimed at the door and fired. Patrick demonstrated what happened as he stood next to the two doors from the apartment that had been blocked up in the courtroom – each door had a shotgun hole about five feet from the floor.

Patrick said he heard Mike scream. Patrick immediately opened the door, and Mike had opened the bathroom door. Patrick helped him out and to the floor. “He shot me, he shot me, he shot me,” Patrick said Mike told him.

Patrick said Mike was bleeding badly, and he told someone to get him a knife so he could cut off Mike’s shirt and use it as a tourniquet. Patrick did that, but while he was helping Mike, Jason came out and yelled at Mike, telling him to get up, he wasn’t hurt that bad.

Patrick said he turned and told Jason to leave, to go away. He said Jason did not apologize and never said he didn’t mean to do it. Patrick then turned back and tried to help Mike while they waited for an ambulance to arrive.

The third and fourth witnesses told a very similar story.

Jerred Ferrell, 21, testified he was a friend of Jason’s from childhood. They grew up together in Brunswick. He had also driven to Atlanta that night and was there to go to the concert, and he had not met Mike before that night.

He said that after Jason and Mike had gotten up from wrestling, he told Mike to go to the bathroom while he went with Jason into the bedroom. Jerred was there with Patrick, trying to calm Jason down. He said he told Jason to put the gun down, that “it wasn’t worth it” to think about using it. Jerred said Jason pointed the gun at him, with the same warning that he needed to get out of the way or he’d get shot, because he was going to kill Mike.

After the gunshot went off, Jarred said he immediately ran, saw Mike emerging from the bathroom, and then ran out the back door of the apartment. He said he was afraid for his own safety, as he did not know if Jason was going to shoot someone else. He fled to the parking lot, and when he got there he used a cell phone to call 911 for emergency help.

The last witness of the day was Joel Wiggins, 22, who was a fraternity brother of Mike’s from Milledgeville. Joel was sitting on the couch in the apartment and realized during the little wrestling match that when Jason threatened to kill Mike if he didn’t get off, that the friendly wrestling match was getting out of hand.

Joel said that when Jason told Mike to get off, Mike did so immediately and stood up, backed up and held his hands out and apologized. “I’m sorry,” Joel quoted Mike as saying. But that did not affect Jason, who was being restrained and wanted to come after Mike, yelling obscenities at him.

Joel said when Mike and Jason disappeared into their separate rooms he thought the disturbance had ended until he heard a loud bang and saw Mike emerge, injured, from the bathroom. He said Mike was incredulous about what had happened, “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” Joel quoted Mike as saying.

The prosecutors — Shukura Polk and Ron Boyter — did a good job of questioning the witnesses. Jason did the shooting, was in a rage, made numerous verbal threats, and also threatened to shoot the other boys – that was the testimony, and it really wasn’t disputed.

Jason’s primary defense attorney, Richard Hagler, questioned the four witnesses, focusing on the amount of beer they may have consumed that night, and also closely questioned each witness about what happened when, and pointed to any discrepancies in the statement they gave police the night of the shooting. But he really didn’t dispute that Jason did the shooting.

In his opening statement to jurors, however, Hagler said he would want the jury to focus on Jason’s intent – whether Jason had the intent to kill. Hagler contended that Jason hadn’t intended to severely hurt Mike or the other two boys who were threatened. Apparently he’s going to try to suggest the boys there were all too drunk to know any better, that their version of events was wildly different and wasn’t to be trusted, and that Jason’s rage got the best of him, but he really never intended to do what he did. Hagler really isn’t disputing the facts of what happened, but it appears he’s going to contend Jason’s emotions and the beer just got the best of him.

However, the prosecutor is expected to counter that argument with one of her own, which says that someone who voluntarily consumes alcohol cannot use their self-induced intoxication as a defense for criminal wrongdoing.

Ms. Polk said in her opening statement that in addition to calling other witnesses who were there that night, she will be calling medical authorities, police officers and crime investigation experts.

Jurors sat quietly throughout the day’s proceedings, and most took many notes. There were tears in the eyes of some jurors.

The only people in the courtroom to support Jason were his parents, his younger sister and an older man who must have been a grandfather. However, more than 40 people were there to support us – family friends, friends, of Mike, and of Dan, and of Molly. We very much appreciated them taking time away from their work or their school to be with us.

Judge Campbell adjourned the day’s proceedings shortly before 5 p.m. Testimony will resume Thursday at 10 a.m.

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