By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Leslie Sharp took the stand yesterday in her own defense in the trial against her for the murder of Christopher Cole.
Sharp, 22, stands accused of shooting Cole, 20, on Nov. 10, 2008 in an act she claims was in the defense of herself and those around her.
Sharp began her testimony by outlining her experience and training with firearms. Her father, Rick Sharp, is a deputy with the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department and is in charge of certifying all county employees, such as other law enforcement officers, with firearm safety. Sharp said she had been raised around guns all of her life and had been taught gun safety.
She said she also participated with a program called the Explorer Post, which gives young people training in law enforcement. In the program, she said she learned about law enforcement searches, how to properly arrest a suspect and how to handle a firearm.
Sharp then went on to detail what happened the night of Nov. 10, 2008. She said earlier that day she had been hanging out at the home of her friend Nicole Tranchina. Some time after 6 p.m., she said their mutual friend, Alessandra Inzunza, came by the house with a woman, Kayla Huffman, who she did not know at the time. Sharp said Inzunza told the women that her boyfriend, Cole, was trying to cheat on her with Huffman, and they planned on confronting him.
Sharp said although she didn’t want to go, she and Tranchina went along because they “didn’t really have anything else to do.” As the women got in Huffman’s car to leave, Sharp said she went back to her truck to retrieve the Smith & Wesson 9 mm her father had given her one week earlier for protection.
Sharp said the women then drove out to Cole’s friend’s house on Kelly Road. They drove past the house and saw Cole getting into his truck. Sharp said Huffman turned the car around and drove back toward the house. She said Cole had backed out of the driveway and stopped, so Inzunza got out of the car and started yelling at Cole. But Cole got back in his truck and drove off.
Sharp said the women drove down the road and saw Cole had stopped at the intersection of Rock Hill Road. Cole got out of his truck, Inzunza got out of the car and they began “yelling and cussing” at each other, she said. Cole then grabbed Inzunza and pushed her before coming over to the driver’s side of Huffman’s car and screaming at her.
Sharp said he said “(Expletive) you” to each of the women in the car and then pulled out a gun from underneath his shirt and fired once to his right, just next to the car. She said he tried to keep firing, but his gun was making a clicking noise. Cole started backing up toward his car, looking at his gun, when she exited the backseat of the car and raised her weapon.
She said he saw her, raised his weapon and she heard one or two clicks when she began shooting and didn’t stop until he hit the ground. She said she had been trained to “defend myself with any means necessary,” and to shoot “as many times as it takes until I’m no longer in danger.”
Sharp said Cole fell forward, his body twisting, and hit the front of Huffman’s car before falling on his back. She said the car had to be backed up so they could shine the headlights on his body to see how bad the wounds were.
Sharp said she ran to Cole, covered him up with her jacket and pushed his gun away. She called 911, got a clothing item from the car and used it to apply pressure to the wound on Cole’s leg. She, Inzunza and Huffman tried to help Cole, but when a sheriff’s deputy arrived on the scene, Sharp said she got sick when he shined his flashlight on Cole.
She said she was immediately put into a deputy’s car and was later taken to the Starkville Police Department for questioning.
Sharp maintained she felt threatened by Cole and was scared for herself and the other women, even though she said she considered Cole a good friend.
Former state medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne gave his expert opinion on what he believed happened that night on Kelly Road. Hayne said, as a pathologist, he has performed over 35,000 autopsy and has been called to give his opinion in court numerous times.
Earlier in the trial, Dr. Adele Lewis, who performed the autopsy on Cole, said she could not definitively say what position Cole was in when he was shot or what order the wounds were created. Hayne, however, said he could.
Hayne was asked by the defense team to look over the case, including the autopsy report and the testimony and statements given by Sharp and other witnesses.
Based on that information, Hayne said he believed Cole was facing Sharp when he was first shot, contrary to the prosecution’s case and several eyewitness testimonies. Hayne said Cole was likely first shot twice in the upper right chest and in the right thigh roughly at the same time. He said he believes Cole was then shot in the right arm. Then, as Cole twisted to his left and fell forward, he was shot three times in the back — twice in the upper right side, and once in the lower back. Hayne said he then believes the fell, hitting Huffman’s car — causing a small injury to the top of his shoulder that was not mentioned in Lewis’ testimony — and then landed on his back on the ground.
Hayne said the trajectory of the bullets do not support the eyewitnesses’ testimonies that Cole was walking away from Sharp when she began shooting. He said Sharp’s testimony was more consistent with the injuries.
Assistant District Attorney Rhonda Hayes-Ellis asked Hayne if it was possible that Sharp began shooting at Cole while his back was turned, but missed him, causing him to turn around and was then hit. Sharp shot a total of 10 times, hitting Cole seven times, and Hayne said that was possible, but he could not say for sure.
Following Hayne’s testimony, the defense rested its case.
During a recess, Hayes-Ellis told Judge Lee Howard she planned to present the video of Sharp’s taped interview with investigators just hours after the shooting during her rebuttal. The defense protested the release of the video, saying it should have been presented during the state’s original case and its release would be an improper rebuttal.
Howard delayed a ruling on the request until case law could be found relating to such an issue. He is expected to make a ruling this morning. The trial will resume today at 9 a.m. at the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court.