Robert Patric, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 2014
A private autopsy of Vonderrit D. Myers Jr., killed Oct. 8 by a St. Louis police officer, shows that his wounds included six shots in the back of his legs and one in the face, a forensic pathologist reported Thursday.
Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, consulting for Myers’ family, said he examined the body, visited the scene in the Shaw neighborhood and was aware of witness statements provided by family lawyers before concluding that Myers was shot while fleeing up a steep hill.
In all, Myers, 18, had seven leg wounds, several with upward trajectories. Wecht said he was unable to determine the order of the shots, but that at least one of the leg wounds would have felled Myers immediately and the head wound would have rendered him unconscious.
Police have said that Myers fired first in a confrontation about 7:30 p.m. near Shaw Boulevard and Klemm Street, and that he was found with a gun that matched to three bullets recovered from the ground near where the officer had been.
Jerryl Christmas, one of the Myers family lawyers, said witnesses told their investigator that Myers was fleeing and “begging for his life” before the officer walked up and delivered the final shot.
As Myers’ mother and father looked on, Christmas and lawyer Jermaine Wooten told reporters they believe the crippling leg wound came between the fourth and seventh shots, and that the head wound was from the last shot.
They deny that Myers fired or even had a gun.
Brian Millikan, the attorney for the officer, said Thursday that those lawyers’ interpretation was “just not true.”
“All of the bullet entry wounds are exactly consistent with what the officer told investigators,” he said.
Millikan said Myers did climb a small hill, then turned and began shooting. The officer took cover and returned fire, Millikan said. He said that Myers ended up on his side, with his legs and his gun pointing at the officer. The lawyer said he believes that the leg wounds happened at that point.
He said the officer then took cover behind a building on the same level as Myers. Millikan said the final shots were fired after the officer ordered Myers to drop the gun, which was still in Myers’ hand, and that Myers responded with curses. When the officer looked again, Millikan said, he saw the gun on the ground.
Wecht said that one shot struck Myers in the left leg, somewhat to the side of his thigh. Three shots hit him in the back of the right thigh, between his buttocks and his knee. Three more hit his left leg, two in the thigh and one in his calf. Five of those bullets were recovered in the body. None of the shots was close-range, he said.
Preliminary autopsy results released earlier this month by the St. Louis medical examiner, Dr. Michael Graham, showed that Myers was shot from six to seven times in the lower extremities. The fatal shot entered Myers head through his right cheek and was recovered in the body, he said.
Asked Thursday about Wecht’s conclusions, Graham said, “I don’t know that you can say that somebody was fleeing, because that implies intent.” He cautioned that he could not determine the sequence of shots without other physical evidence and witness statements. But he said that Wecht’s conclusions appeared to be similar to his own regarding the wounds.
Under questioning, Wecht acknowledged that Myers may have suffered leg wounds while lying down.
The official autopsy report won’t be finished for at least seven weeks, Myers family lawyers said, due to pending laboratory and toxicology results. Wecht said that he would wait to produce his final results until he receives the official report. He said he obtained a diagram of the wounds, but had not seen any other autopsy results, which he said are “very important” when conducting a second autopsy.
The shooting prompted protests and claims that Myers was holding a sandwich, not a gun, when he was killed. Christmas said Thursday that independent investigations should be conducted of all police shootings.
In response, police union officials and lawyers released information, including the officer’s claim that he thought before giving chase that Myers might have had a gun, and lab results indicating that Myers had fired a gun.
Union officials also said photos circulating on social media showed Myers posing at some earlier point with the handgun found after the shooting.
Police said lab tests found gunshot residue on Myers’ hands, shirt and inside the waistband and pockets of his jeans consistent with the firing of a gun.