The mother of Leonard "Lenny" Joeris testified Tuesday in her son’s murder trial that Leonard told her it was his wife Lorrie who first threatened him with the Derringer pistol.
"He told me that she pulled the gun on him...," Betsy James told prosecutor Craig Jacobsen Tuesday morning.
Lorrie Joeris was shot to death on Feb. 21, 2010 following an evening walk with Leonard at their Jasper home. Leonard Joeris, who says a struggle ensued after Lorrie produced the gun, faces charges of first degree murder.
Joeris and his mother have exchanged more than 100 phone calls since he was taken into custody last year, according to testimony by third circuit State Attorney's
investigator Eddie Black.
Jurors listened to three of those recorded conversations in their entirety Monday morning.
During the first conversation that took place shortly after Joeris was arrested, he and James discussed his lack of legal representation.
"That's why I haven't said anything to anyone. I've got a good little story," he said to James.
In July of last year, she asked him if he kicked the gun that shot Lorrie Joeris.
"...did you kick that gun?" she asked.
"Yeah," Joeris responded.
Joeris has stated he attempted to kick the gun out of Lorrie’s reach after she went to the ground during their struggle.
However, Duval County Chief Medical Examiner Valerie Rao said the scenario described by Harrison and supported by James contradicts autopsy findings.
Using a forensic dummy, Rao explained that the nearly perfectly horizontal angle of the gunshot wound she found upon her examination of Lorrie Joeris, could only have happened if someone shot her. Rao showed autopsy photographs of Lorrie's gunshot wound and bruises on her arms and hands that she said are consistent with a struggle. "This was hand to hand combat," she said.
According to Rao's testimony, the gun would have been close to 18 inches from Lorries head when it was fired.
Jacobsen asked if the gun had been kicked while on the ground, how likely would it be that the bullet entered Lorrie's head horizontally just above her ear. Rao said that it would be highly unlikely. She said the bruises and gunshot wounds were consistent with a struggle that resulted in a homicide.
"Very, very rarely do we have an accidental death from a gunshot," Rao said. "This is not an accidental death no matter how you look at the case."
"You know that even though you weren't there," Harrison asked during cross examination.
"Yes, I do," Rao replied.
The state rested its case at 3:20 p.m. Tuesday, following Rao's testimony.
The defense began its case with a stipulation concerning a witness who was not available to testify. Harrison read a stipulated testimony from one of Lorrie's fellow elementary school teachers, Michelana Byrd. The testimony suggested that Lorrie was in the market for a new gun. "Are you planning to shoot your husband?" Byrd had once jokingly commented to Lorrie.
Leonard and Lorrie's son Westen Joeris, was the first witness for the defense to take the stand.
During a recorded interview with Hamilton County Sheriff Harrell Reid the day after his mother's funeral, Westen said he was in the kitchen when he saw his mother take the Derringer pistol with her as she left to walk with Leonard. However, Tuesday afternoon, he told the jury and Harrison that he had lied. In fact, he said he was in his room when his parent left for their walk and he did not see who took the pistol.
Westen said he is not sure why he lied, except that he was upset and scared. He said that his memory and judgment is better now than it was the day after his mother's funeral when he was first interviewed.
"I'm not scared anymore," he said.
The defendant, who had only shown brief glimpses of emotion, appeared to have tears in his eyes as his son testified.
Westen's caretakers James and Ann Hinton, Lorrie's brother and sister-in-law, watched from the audience with Lorrie's father Owen Hinton. It was a very emotional day for the family, as they listened to testimony and endured autopsy photos.
Leonard Joeris was expected to testify on his own behalf Wednesday.