Forensic scientist explains gunshot details to jurors

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 16, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Robert Douglas Earnhardt heard from a forensic scientist about gunshot residue Thursday.
Earnhardt is on trial in the death of his stepfather, Billy Tommy Elmore.
Elmore was shot in the back of the head Sept. 17, 2009, at 165 Leisure Lane, a home he’d shared with estranged wife, Patty Kesler Earnhardt Elmore. He moved out of that home a week before he was killed.
Investigators collected evidence from Billy Elmore to determine if he in fact fired a gun that night. Robert Earnhardt told investigators he shot his stepfather after Elmore raised a gun and pointed it toward Earnhardt’s mother, Patty.
State Bureau of Investigation Agent Michael Gurdziel told the court there were three components — barium, antimony and lead that make up gunshot residue.
When a gun fires, gunshot residue is released and some of those particles come to rest on the hand. Swabs are taken from the hand, which is what Gurdziel tested.
The scientist explained to jurors the intricacies of the process and how he determines whether someone may have fired a gun.
There was no gunshot residue found on Billy Elmore.
Superior Court Judge Kevin Bridges allowed jurors to watch a videotaped interview Earnhardt had with investigators a day after the shooting.
On Wednesday afternoon, jurors were released early so the judge and attorneys could watch the nearly two-hour video.
Bridges told attorneys he would hear their individual arguments for or against the video being viewed by jurors before the jury came into the courtroom.
Assistant District Attorney Barrett Poppler indicated there were things Earnhardt said on the video that were told to him by a third party. There was no way to verify the information and he wanted the court to accept it as hearsay.
He wanted a portion of the video to be played, while Earnhardt’s attorney, Jay White, wanted it all.
“It does shed some light on why he acted in the manner in which he did,” Bridges said.
The judge said he would allow the video in its entirety, but with instructions that explain the video and some statements contained in the video are being offered to show Earnhardt’s state of mind.
Detective Jason Owens told the court he interviewed Tiffany Barbee at Carolinas Medical Center on Sept. 19, 2009, two days after she was shot at 165 Leisure Lane.
Barbee, who dated Billy Elmore’s son, Brian Maynor, at the time, drove Elmore to Leisure Lane. She is now married to Maynor.
Barbee was shot in the wrist/hand area. Robert Earnhardt told a detective in a taped interview and at the scene the night of the shooting, he fired a “warning” shot into the air toward a vacant lot across the street from Leisure Lane.
That shot struck Barbee, who drove herself to Tamarac Marina on Bringle Ferry Road.
Before Owens spoke with Barbee, he drove to Leisure Lane and created a rough sketch of the front yard where the shooting occurred.
Owens let Barbee pinpoint on the sketch where she was standing and where she believed others were standing that night.
The trial continues today at 9:30 a.m.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.