OGDEN — The prosecution painted a picture Wednesday of Matthew Stewart blazing away at officers even as they retreated, the shot that killed Jared Francom fired as he was dragged or crawled to escape, out of ammunition.
Francom and other members of the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force were serving a knock-and-announce search warrant on Stewart’s home at 3268 Jackson Ave. on Jan. 4 when the gun battle broke out. Stewart faces the death penalty in Francom’s death. He is also charged with attempted aggravated murder for shooting at seven other officers, hitting five.
Francom and fellow agent Kasey Burrell lay in a heap in Stewart’s kitchen, shot several times as their sergeant, Nate Hutchinson, and fellow agent Derek Draper were trying to drag them from the home, said Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward during his opening statement at Stewart’s three-day preliminary hearing.
“The defendant continues to advance on the officers and continues to fire on them,” Heward said.
Testimony Wednesday indicated Stewart fired first and few of the nine strike force agents who raided Stewart’s home were wearing ballistic vests. Their investigation left them believing the house was a “grow house” with no one living there, just visitors tending the marijuana plants growing in the basement.
In his opening statement, Heward said Rob Carpenter, an investigator with the Weber County Attorney’s Office, will testify to his Jan. 5 visit with Stewart, hospitalized with wounds from the shootout. Stewart allegedly admitted to Carpenter he heard the officers announcing they were police serving a search warrant and knew “it was some branch of the government coming through his door.”
The first witness was Ed Leis, chief deputy state medical examiner who performed Francom’s autopsy.
Leis testified that Francom was shot seven times, one of the shots diverted by his cell phone.
Francom, he said, had six wounds: To his left chest, his right abdomen, his upper left back, his back right shoulder, his left arm and his upper left thigh.
The shot in the upper left back was the fatal one, he said, because it severed Francom’s spine and pierced his lung.
Leis said the trajectory of the fatal wound indicated Francom was either being dragged from the house when he was hit from behind or had been crawling on his hands and knees.
Shawn Grogan, the first officer to be wounded, testified Wednesday morning that he was not wearing a vest when he entered the house and walked down an upstairs hallway toward Stewart’s bedroom. He said he yelled “Police! Search warrant!” when suddenly Stewart’s arm came around the doorway from the bedroom and started firing, hitting Grogan in the jaw.
Grogan said he fell back into the bathroom on the other side of the hall and kept firing until the 14-round magazine in his pistol was empty.
Officers eventually removed 16 marijuana plants from the home. Stewart and his family have previously claimed he thought his home was being invaded and he was about to be robbed or killed, and that he is a political prisoner in the government’s war on drugs.
“Who are we going to believe, our own family member” or the evidence she described as untrustworthy, Erna Stewart, the defendant’s sister-in-law and the family spokesman, said during a brief press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Aside from what happened after the breach (when agents broke down Stewart’s door) he wasn’t hurting anyone,” she said. “Does the crime fit the punishment? Did he deserve to have nine guys crashing into his house? He wasn’t hurting anyone but himself.”
Thirty or more uniformed police officers were around the courthouse all day, in solidarity with the injured officers, waiting along with Stewart supporters for seats to become available in the crowded courtroom.
Testimony is to resume at 8:30 a.m. today.