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Shelby Trial: Judge Will Allow Helicopter Chatter, Won't Allow Some of Crutcher's Past


A judge ruled Wednesday on the admissibility of several pieces of controversial evidence in the manslaughter trial of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby.

Radio chatter between Tulsa police officers in a helicopter over the scene of Terence Crutcher’s fatal shooting on Sept. 16, 2016, will be allowed.

Shelby's attorneys called pilot Mike Richert's statements, "Time for a taser, I think," and, "That looks like a bad dude," inflammatory and prejudicial. Attorney Shannon McMurray told Judge Doug Drummond Wednesday Shelby couldn’t hear the helicopter’s radio traffic and said comments from people 500 feet up are irrelevant.

McMurray also said prosecutors are forcing a racial narrative when there’s "absolutely no evidence this is about race."

District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler told the judge Richert chose to fly to the scene after hearing Shelby’s radio traffic, and the jury needs to know why he and other responding officers were so concerned. Shelby’s husband, David, was also in the helicopter.

Some aspects of Terence Crutcher’s past cannot be used for a self-defense argument Shelby's attorneys are building.

Drummond ruled Shelby’s attorneys can’t bring up allegations Crutcher was high and firing a gun the night before his death, nor can they talk about assertions he often carried a gun. Past drug use is also off-limits.

They will be able to discuss Crutcher’s visit to a Tulsa Community College Campus the day he was shot and three 911 calls between that visit and when Shelby encountered him in which witnesses said Crutcher was acting strangely.

Whether Crutcher’s criminal history and past alleged instances of not complying with an officer may be brought up at trial will be decided at a hearing April 21.

Also at Wednesday's hearing, Prosecutors accused Shelby’s attorneys of breaking pretrial publicity rules.

After Shelby’s April second "60 Minutes" interview bookended by her attorneys’ appearances on local AM talk radio, Drummond reminded everyone he’d told them in November to be aware of professional conduct rules. Those include not making public comments that could affect the trial.

Kunzweiler produced links to those interviews posted to Facebook by McMurray, Scott Wood and their chief investigator after Drummond’s reminder. Drummond didn’t go as far as to admonish the defense but said he would appreciate if attorneys followed his lead and suspended their social media accounts for the duration of the trial.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.