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Opening Statements Lay Foundation for Thomas Johnson Trial

Attorney Daniel Aureli
Jamie Germano
Democrat & Chronicle
Attorney Daniel Aureli

In her opening statements, District Attorney Sandra Doorley called the gun shot that killed Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson last September, "knowing, purposeful, and deliberate."

Doorley says Officer Pierson, a member of the tactical unit of the RPD, was simply doing his job when he went in search of a man matching the description of Thomas Johnson III, the defendant.

"Officer Pierson died while he was in uniform, while performing the official duties of the Rochester Police Department."

Attorneys for the defense indicated in their opening remarks that they will not contest that the gun fired from Johnson's weapon killed Officer Pierson. Instead, Attorney Daniel Aureli argues that his client did not act with intent to kill.

"It isn't a situation where one person was pursing, there was a stop, a turn, and a fire. It was a fluid action and interaction between each of them and that's I think, the decision that the jury's going to have to make."

Johnson is facing multiple charges, the most serious of which is one charge of aggravated murder, which carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Over the course of the trial, jurors will be shown video surveillance footage taken from several local businesses.

Attorneys for the defense also took the opportunity to argue the validity of the pursuit that immediately preceded the shooting, saying that none of the officers involved in the events that occurred that night knew the identity of Thomas Johnson. Attorney James Hinman suggested they had no reason to go in search of Johnson but for what Hinman called "curiosity."

New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Moran has already ruled that the foot chase between Officer Pierson and Johnson was legal, and also ruled that even if it weren't, the actual shooting is an independent illegal event for the purposes of this case.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.