By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Leslie Sharp took the stand Thursday to testify in her defense in a case of what Judge Lee Howard described as “not a ‘whodunit,’ but a ‘whydunit.’”
Sharp, 21, is charged in the murder of Christopher Cole, 20, in what she claims was self-defense and in the defense of the others around her on November 10, 2008.
Eyewitnesses, several investigators and experts already testified over the last few days.
Sharp’s testimony began with a brief history of her background. She said that she had received training in the handling of guns from both her father, Rick Sharp, who is employed as a Sheriff’s Deputy with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office, as well as from a program called the Explorer Post, which offers training in various aspects of law enforcement, from taking witness statements to firearm usage. She said that she had been “raised around guns” her whole life.
Sharp’s attorney, Jack Brown, questioned her on the events surrounding Cole’s death. Sharp testified that she went to her friend Nicole Tranchina’s house early in the evening on November 10, 2008. Tranchina mentioned that their mutual friend, Alissandra “Alize” Inzunza, would be coming over and bringing a woman named Kayla Huffman. When the two females arrived, Sharp said they explained that Inzunza had found out her boyfriend, Cole, had been “hitting on Kayla,” and they planned to “catch Chris in a lie” and invited Sharp and Tranchina to come along.
Sharp testified that neither she nor Tranchina wanted to go, but went anyway, because they had “nothing else to do.” Before leaving, Sharp said that she retrieved a gun from her vehicle. She later said that the gun had been given to her by her father for protection just one week earlier.
Sharp said Inzunza found out that Cole was likely at a friend’s house on Kelly Road, an area that she was unfamiliar with. When the females drove past the house, Sharp said that Cole was getting into his truck and leaving. Huffman, who was driving the car, turned around and caught up to Cole at a stop sign down the road. Cole stopped his vehicle, and got out. Sharp said that Inzunza wanted to speak with him, so she got out of their vehicle and attempted to get into Cole’s truck. Cole grabbed her, pushed her around and they began “screaming and cussing” at each other, said Sharp. Cole then walked over to the driver’s side of the vehicle all the females were in and proceeded to scream at Huffman, who was driving.
Sharp testified that Cole then reached under his shirt and pulled out a pistol, and fired it once to his right, toward the ground. He continued to try to fire the gun, but it only made a “click, click, click,” Sharp said. She stated that he then started to walk backwards, “fiddling” with his gun as if he was trying to figure out what was wrong with it, and then pointed it toward the front of their vehicle.
Sharp said it was then that she exited the car and drew her weapon. Cole looked up and advanced toward her, pulling the trigger, but his gun continued to misfire. Sharp testified that she began shooting and did not stop until Cole hit the ground, when Cole was “no longer a threat.” She then ejected the magazine from her gun, saw how many bullets she had left, and put it back in her gun before placing it in her waistband, all of which she had been trained how to do.
She described what happened next as “pandemonium.” She stated that she put her jacket over Cole, and then ran back to the car and grabbed a shirt that she used to apply pressure to one of his wounds. She called 911, but eventually gave the phone to Inzunza. When a Sheriff’s Deputy arrived on the scene, Sharp stated that she was placed in the back of a car and eventually taken to the Starkville Police Department for questioning.
During cross examination, Sharp was questioned by Assistant District Attorney Rhonda Hayes-Ellis as to why, if she saw Cole as a threat, were three of the bullet wounds to his back, indicating that he was not facing her when those shots were fired. She testified that it all happened very fast, and she could not be sure of his exact movements, but that she shot until she “eliminated the threat.”
Also during cross examination, Hayes-Ellis asked Sharp about her romantic feelings for Cole’s girlfriend, Inzunza. The defense quickly objected to the question, and the jury was removed from the court room. Hayes-Ellis revealed to Judge Howard that the state believed Sharp’s motive for the shooting was “associated with her desire to be romantically involved with Alize.” The question was later withdrawn, and the issue did not come up again during Sharp’s testimony.
Hayes-Ellis also questioned Sharp on several inconsistencies between her first statement she gave to law enforcement on the night of the shooting and her testimony given during the trial. Sharp stated that she gave a total of three statements that night, and had not intentionally lied in any of them, but was still trying to process what had just happened.
Several other witnesses testified Thursday, including Dr. Adele Lewis, who performed the autopsy on Cole. Her findings were the following:
• Cole was shot seven times, including three times in his back, one in his arm and several times on his chest and abdomen.
• His internal injuries included damage to his right lung, liver and intestines.
• She could not testify to what position his body was in when he was shot, nor could she say which order the wounds occurred.
• She determined his cause of death to be multiple gun shot wounds.
Joseph Turnipseed, whose house Cole visited just before the shooting occurred also testified. He had spoken with Inzunza several times earlier in the day, and she told him she would be coming to his house. He stated that he witnessed the females drive up to his house, but went inside when Cole drove off and did not see the shooting.
Sheriff Deputy Commander John Davis testified for the second time during the trial Thursday. He stated that he took a statement from Turnipseed after the shooting and Turnipseed stated that Inzunza had asked that he not tell Cole she would be coming, but he did anyway.
Courtney Armstead, who was Turnipseed’s girlfriend at the time, testified that she knew Cole had cheated on Inzunza several times in the past, saying “we were young, and you know, he’s a boy.” She was not in the area at the time of the shooting.
A recorded interview with Sharp that was taken at the Starkville Police Department the night of the shooting was played for the jury. The video featured Sharp’s original statement, though she gave a total of three that night.