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Cop Accused of Shooting Man in Back Goes on Trial for Murder

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Video played Tuesday at a police officer's murder trial shows the 15-year veteran shocking a fleeing suspect with a stun gun, then shooting him twice in the back as he lay face down in the snow and appeared to reach for something with his hands.

Officer Lisa Mearkle was charged with third-degree murder for shooting 59-year-old David Kassick after he fled from a Feb. 2 traffic stop in Hummelstown, a Harrisburg suburb. The shooting was captured by a camera attached to her stun gun.

The video shows Kassick's hands repeatedly disappearing underneath his body as Mearkle screams at him to keep them where she can see them, a key point of contention between the defense, which says Mearkle fired in self-defense, and the prosecution, which called the shooting unjustified.

"Show your hands!" she's heard yelling on the video, which was played twice for the jury. Kassick's family cried quietly in the courtroom gallery as the deadly sequence played out in high definition.

Mearkle, 37, administered CPR after shooting Kassick, but he died at the scene. He was unarmed.

She is expected to testify in her own defense when the trial resumes Wednesday.

Dauphin County Judge Deborah Curcillo barred authorities from publicly releasing the video, saying it would jeopardize Mearkle's right to a fair trial. Lawyers for PA Media Group, which publishes Pennlive.com in Harrisburg, filed a motion last week asking for release of the video as soon as it was shown at trial. The court on Tuesday ordered that the video not be released publicly until there is a verdict in the case.

In opening statements earlier, prosecutor Johnny Baer said Mearkle "took David's life without justification. Took it unnecessarily."

Defense attorney Brian Perry said Kassick ignored commands, and Mearkle thought he was reaching for a weapon.

"You don't shoot to wound. You shoot to stop the threat. He was a threat," Perry said.

The encounter began as Mearkle attempted to pull over Kassick for expired inspection and emissions stickers.

Her "cop bells" went off when she turned on her lights and sirens and Kassick failed to pull over, even going around a car stopped at a red light, Perry told jurors. Mearkle, who had an intern riding along, followed Kassick a short distance to his sister's house, where he had been living. Kassick parked in the driveway, got out of the car and fled to the backyard.

"It's not an inspection sticker now," Perry told the jury.

He said Mearkle ordered Kassick to stop, get on the ground and show her his hands 23 separate times, but he made the "conscious decision" to ignore her.

"If he complies, he's alive," he said.

Prosecutors interpreted the video differently, saying it did not show Kassick posing a threat. Even if Mearkle believed she was in danger, that belief was "unreasonable in light of the circumstances," Baer said.

"This officer used deadly force to subdue a suspect without justification," he said.

Mearkle shocked Kassick four times before reaching for her handgun, but the video shows him moving his hands even as he was being jolted. The stun gun would have caused pain, but did not incapacitate Kassick, because he was wearing a heavy coat and the electrical probes did not make direct contact with the skin, testified Bryan Chiles of TASER International Inc., the manufacturer.

Derry Township police Chief Patrick M. O'Rourke, who took command of the scene shortly after the shooting, testified that when he got there, he saw Mearkle "feverishly attempting life-saving measures" on Kassick.

It's unknown why Kassick fled, but he had problems with substance abuse and police recovered a syringe near his body that might have been his. Prosecutors have said alcohol and unspecified drugs were found in his system.

Mearkle was suspended without pay after her arrest. She remains on electronic monitoring while out on bail.

In addition to third-degree murder, she's charged with voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.