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Murder trial: Daughter didn't see gun under mom's hand

Defense maintains she shot herself; police found pistol after arriving later

POSTED: March 10, 2009 10:30 p.m.

Reviewing evidence

Watch Hall County sheriff's Crime Scene Investigator Cameron Durham go over evidence Tuesday in the murder trial of Troy Hester.

SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bagwell displays to the jury the shirt Solomon Hester was wearing the night Allison Brownell was shot Tuesday afternoon in Hall County Superior Court. Hester is accused of shooting Brownell to death, but he claims his live-in girlfriend committed suicide.

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An 11-year-old girl’s testimony in court Tuesday described a scene different from what authorities found when they arrived to investigate the fatal shooting of her mother.

Solomon Hester, 32, is on trial this week in Hall County Superior Court, charged with murder in the Oct. 1, 2007, shooting death of his live-in girlfriend, Allison Brownell. Hester told investigators that an intoxicated and despondent Brownell shot herself in their Belvedere Drive home while her two daughters, ages 9 and 10, were in another room.

The first deputies who arrived found a .40-caliber pistol under Brownell’s left hand, her finger inside the trigger guard.

But Brownell’s oldest daughter, Destiny, testified Tuesday that when she went into the room to investigate the sound of the gunshot moments after it rang out, she didn’t see a gun.

"Do you remember whether you saw a gun in your mom’s hands?" Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Bagwell asked the girl, who was 10 at the time of the shooting.

"No, I didn’t see one," she replied.

In an excerpt of a videotaped interview played for the jury, Destiny Brownell said she saw smoke from a cigarette that was in her mother’s hand, then the cigarette fell.

Allison Brownell was clutching a cigarette lighter in her right hand when authorities found her body.

Under cross-examination by public defender Brad Morris, the girl acknowledged that her mother seemed sad and was crying as she lay with the two girls and gazed at the night sky.

"Did she say that her heart hurt?" Morris asked.

"Yes," the girl replied.

But Destiny Brownell also testified that her mother had made plans to lie under the stars again with the children on the next night.

The jury spent most of the day hearing from Cameron Durham, a crime scene investigator with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office who processed the shooting scene.

Durham used a dowel rod to trace the path of the bullet through Brownell’s head and into the cushion of a sofa, where her body was found lying on her right side, her feet on the floor.

Durham testified that the blood spatter pattern and the angle of the shot contradicted the defendant’s version of events. Hester told investigators that Brownell was sitting up on the sofa when she shot herself.

"She’s laying down when the shot is delivered," Durham testified.

Durham said Brownell’s gunshot wound, and evidence that the barrel of the gun was pressed to her head, offered investigators insight on how the gun was positioned when it was fired.

Durham held the gun up to his own head with his left hand to show how the grip would have been loose on the gun if fired from the angle evident by Brownell’s wound.

Under cross-examination, Durham acknowledged that it would not have been impossible for someone to commit suicide with the gun held at the same angle.

"It’s not impossible ... but to me it’s an awkward position," Durham said. "It’s awkward and difficult to do."

Defense attorney Brett Willis sought to show that Durham missed some specks of blood seen in photographs of the shooting scene that would place the blood splatter further out.

Durham said the red marks that Willis pointed out were fibers, not blood.

Willis asked Durham whether he knew that the brand of hand-rolled cigarettes Brownell smoked frequently went out and she often kept a lighter in her hand to relight them.

Willis asked whether a test of the kitchen sink, where investigators may have thought Hester washed his hands before calling 911, showed any presence of blood.

Durham said neither the sink nor a phone Hester used to call 911 tested positive for blood.

Cross-examination of the investigator was scheduled to resume this morning.



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