Robber argues nobody saw him driving car that struck a Windham police officer
Clint Pickering, 27, formerly of Epsom, is offering a two-fold defense against charges of second-degree assault, reckless conduct and seven other charges now being considered by a jury in Rockingham County Superior Court.
He and his partner, Patrick McKeen, 26, formerly of Laconia, admitted to robbing the Bank of New England on the afternoon of Sept. 18, 2009, and they are each serving more than a decade in federal prison for their respective roles in the robbery.
“But there’s a long gap of time where we challenge who was driving that car,” defense lawyer Neil Reardon said. “Was it Mr. McKeen? Was it Mr. Pickering? Can anyone identify the driver on Interstate 93? We submit to you they can’t.”
Reardon suggested during opening arguments that even if somebody could peg Pickering as the driver, prosecutors would still have to prove that the his client intended to hit a police officer rather than simply escape from the law.
County prosecutors argued that Pickering intentionally steered his car at Officer Jason Dzierlatka after he tossed down a spike strip on the southbound lane of the interstate to deflate the getaway car’s tires.
Dzierlatka, who sat in the front row of courtroom 1 throughout Thursday’s trial, has undergone multiple surgeries and skin grafts for a broken left foot. A medic testified that bone was sticking out of Dzierlatka’s foot when they found him barely conscious along the roadside.
Quoting from the officer’s account of being hit, Assistant County Attorney Brad Bolton said: “I felt myself get spun around. I looked up and 20 feet away I saw my boot then I looked down at my foot to see if it was still there.”
Windham police had responded to a 911 call about a green Dodge Avenger that was spotted speeding away from the bank shortly after it was robbed.
The car barreled northbound along the interstate on a Friday about 5 p.m., then spun 360-degrees before driving in the southbound lane, climbing to speeds between 90 and 100 mph, according to court testimony.
State police and police officers from Windham and Salem blocked off-ramps along the highway during the pursuit.
The car wheels shot off sparks and debris after it passed over the spike strips thrown down by Dzierlatka, rolling on without two passenger side tires, police officers testified.
Salem police Officer Chad Clark told jurors that the car came at him and another Salem officer while they were stationed near Exit 1, before he jumped into his patrol car to avoid getting run over. Clark testified the getaway car went into the breakdown lane where he was standing, so he dove into his patrol cruiser, closed his eyes and braced for impact.
“I thought I was going to get killed,” Clark testified.
Retired Windham Police Capt. Carl Wagner testified that he was able to identify Pickering as the driver when the vehicle had spun out early on in the pursuit. Reardon questioned why Pickering was not named or identified in a police report Wagner wrote right after the pursuit.
A DNA sample from blood matched to Pickering was also taken from an airbag that deployed in the getaway car when it struck another vehicle along Route 110 in Dracut, Mass., police testified.
State Trooper Derek Holston testified that he chased Pickering on foot as he went door to door of nearby motorists. “He was attempting to get into the first car he came to,” Holston testified.
The trooper eventually apprehended Pickering after he jumped into the Merrimack River. Pickering was struck with a Taser for nearly 24 seconds before being taken into custody, Holston testified.
The trial is expected to continue this morning.
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James A. Kimble may be reached at JKimble@newstote.com.
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