The prosecution in the case against Steven Smith overcame what appeared to be a devastating initial hurdle to end the first day of testimony strongly.

Before a former police officer took the stand, after the morning break, the case against Smith seemed to be moving along steadily. Prosecutor Jim Rosenberry spent the early hours of the trial setting up the testimony presumed to be most damming toward the defendant. That testimony came from the officers involved.

After calling the Westport couple, who’s Nissan truck was struck by Smith, setting off the entire Jan. 12, 2004 incident, Rosenberry beckoned former Westport Deputy Marshal Steve Peetz to the stand. Peetz is at the heart of the case. It is alleged he faced death twice by Smith; Once when the defendant ran the officer off the road and again when Smith fired at Peetz, Westport Marshal Todd Hampton and Indiana State Trooper Anthony Scott near the Pine Lake Trailer Park.

Peetz first explained how he and Smith came head-to-head while driving in opposite directions on State Road 3 . At the time, the officer was searching for the defendant who reportedly threatened a Westport couple with a gun.

“He was completely in my lane traveling at between 45 and 50 miles per hour,” Peetz detailed. “That lasted for less than a block until I veered off the right side of the road.”

Rosenberry asked is Peetz feared for his life. That factor, in both the vehicle confrontation and the shooting, is the key element in the trial. Smith is charged with two counts of attempted murder of the officers which requires the state to prove he meant to kill them with his actions.

“Yes I feared for my life,” Peetz said. “In a head-on collision I could have possibly died. You can see my skid marks (in a slide the prosecution entered into evidence) went way to the edge of the road where there is a deep drop off.”

Defense attorney Jack Crawford looked pleased to hear about a move Smith made which he believes showed he never intended to kill the officer.

“Was Steve Smith still in your lane when you passed each other?” Rosenberry asked.

Peetz said no.

“He veered over at the end,” Peetz said. “He missed me by near a foot.”

Crawford picked up on that issue when he cross examined Peetz.

“You feared you would crash and die. Didn’t Mr. Smith suffer the same risk of dying?” he asked and Peetz confirmed yes.

“He was in your lane for less than a block and veered away?” Crawford asked and again Peetz agreed.

As the discussion regarding the vehicle incident appeared to end to the benefit of the defendant, the attorneys moved on to the shooting. There, again, the defense was hurt when Peetz put himself and the other officers further away from the shooting than originally thought and apparently out of danger. Making it even more difficult for the prosecution to show attempted murder was the fact this information came out on direct questioning by Rosenberry not cross examination by the defense.

“Where were you and the other officers when the first shot was fired?” Rosenberry asked, expecting Peetz to put himself and his fellow cops in the line of fire from Smith’ Russian military rifle which he discharged three times from the nearby woods.

“The subject shouted ‘Get the (expletive) away from my van’ so we ran back to our vehicles and waited for back-up,” Peetz started. “I was between my car and the van and the other officers were at the back of the van.”

Rosenberry again asked where Peetz, Scott and Hampton were when the first shot was fired but that caught the ire of Crawford.

“Asked and answered Judge,” Crawford objected. “The witness already answered the question.”

Rosenberry explained to Superior Court Judge W. Michael Wilke he was just trying to get clarification of the witness’ statement. The Judge wasn’t having it.

“I understood where he said he was,” Wilke told the prosecutor. “Let’s not keep repeating the same question all of the time.”

After that discussion, the session broke for lunch. After the noon hour, things picked up for the prosecution which presents its case first in a criminal trial.

Trooper Scott was called to the stand. It has been alleged he was the one most in danger from Smith’s gun.

“I was a few feet away from the van’s driver’s side door and a few feet from the edge of the woods. Marshal Hampton was near me,” Scott testified. “After the first shot, that’s when I went for cover.”

Crawford tried to dispute the state’s claim Smith laid in wait to kill the police.

“In your opinion was Steve Smith Trying to ambush you?” Crawford questioned Scott. “In your experience, does someone who wants to ambush the police hoop, holler and yell before they shoot at them?”

Scott’s answer was detailed.

“Anyone who shoots at police has other issues. I didn’t know what he was going to do in his state of mind,” Scott said. “Smith yelled ‘Get out of here or I’ll kill you’ and then bang. I was in fear for my life until he was taken into custody. I never got up from my cover behind my door jam.”

For the next three hours the stories were much the same. Hampton and Decatur County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian McCullough each remembered similar accounts. Before they broke for the day Greensburg Police Lt. Wayne Shake recounted his arrest of the defendant.

This morning, the prosecution plans on calling a handful of brief technical witnesses from the Indiana State Police Crime Lab and expects to wrap up by the lunch break. Crawford said his defense won’t take long either and testimony will be complete by the end of today.

Depending on what time both sides conclude, the jury could hear closing arguments today but it is expected they wont begin until Friday morning.

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