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July 15, 2010 06:15 PM

Forensics Expert Explains Shootout In Johns Case

Parker, SD


Both sides agree that the fragment of a bullet is what killed Turner County Deputy Chad Mechels last March. But prosecutors and Ethan Johns' defense attorneys don't agree on when it was fired.


The prosecutor's ballistics expert is the assistant director of the South Dakota Forensic Lab; the defense has hired its own expert. They both did their own experiments by shooting through windows and trying to simulate the shots Johns took that morning. Judge Steven Jensen heard their theories Thursday on which shot killed Mechels and will decide later who will be able to testify during the August 23 trial.

The shootout between Johns and Mechels lasted five minutes, but the investigation into what exactly happened has taken months.

Franz Maritz, the assistant director of the South Dakota Forensic Lab, has been sorting out the crime scene evidence.

Maritz says he could not determine whether Mechels or Johns fired first, but he does know Mechels was inside Johns' home when he was shot the first time. Johns had fired through the open bathroom door, hitting Mechels in the shoulder. Maritz also says Mechels fired several times; those bullets went through the wall and into the bathroom, but none hit Johns.

Mechels then went outside to his Turner County Sheriff's Office Chevy Tahoe. Maritz says that's when Johns turned around and fired his 30.06 rifle through the bathroom window. The first shot broke the bathroom window and hit the Tahoe's door frame. Maritz says he knows that because when the bullet went through the bathroom glass and blinds, it disfigured and created a large hole in Mechels' vehicle.

Maritz says the second went through the windshield and a bullet fragment severed the deputy's carotid artery, killing him.
He came to that conclusion because when the bullet went through the windshield, the hole it left behind was the same size as the bullet. That means since it wasn't disfigured, it had a clear path through the bathroom window before it hit Mechels' patrol vehicle and the deputy.

The defense says its expert determined Johns' first shot from the bathroom went through the windshield.
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