Shooting theories presented during third day of Tillman murder trial

Published 9:58 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2009

State and defense attorneys presented differing shooting scenarios Oct. 21 during the third day of a former Vincent pastor’s murder trial.

Defense attorney Erskine Mathis and Assistant District Attorney Roger Hepburn attempted to describe the circumstances leading up to the Oct. 26, 2005, shooting death of Janet Tillman. Timothy Tillman, the former pastor of the Revival Church in Vincent, faces murder charges related to her death.

During the Oct. 21 hearings, former Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences employee Heather Harrelson explained investigators found three shotguns in the Tillmans’ house on Carr Drive minutes after the shooting. A bolt-action shotgun and a pump shotgun were found in a hallway a few feet from Janet Tillman’s body, and another pump-action shotgun was discovered under the victim’s body in the couple’s bedroom, Harrelson said.

Investigators also found a circular dent on a door frame in the bedroom, and later determined it was nearly identical to the shape of a shotgun muzzle, Harrelson said. Forensic scientists found no blood spatters or gunshot damage in the bedroom, she added.

Lawden Yates, the trial’s first defense-called witness, said, because Timothy Tillman was believed to have been holding the pump-action and bolt-action shotguns at the same time when his wife was shot, the bolt-action shotgun may have caused the other weapon to fire unexpectedly.

“The shot is consistent with the pump gun being shot by the bolt lever on the bolt-action gun,” Yates said. “There is a possibility that the bolt could have gotten caught in the trigger guard of the pump-action gun and caused it to discharge.

“The victim’s wound was about the same height as a person carrying a gun, assuming that person was standing upright,” Yates added. “The indent on the door frame was consistent with the bolt-action gun striking the door frame and transferring that motion to the trigger of the pump gun.”

However, Hepburn accused Yates of formulating an opinion to fit a theory suggested by Mathis.

“Mr. Yates, it looks like you had a theory suggested to you and you ran with it,” Hepburn said to Yates, shortly after he pointed out Yates was paid by Mathis to testify.

“I’m not trying to make it anything other than what it was,” Yates responded.

“You can put the bolt through the trigger guard and make it pull the trigger like that on purpose, can you not?” Hepburn asked.

“Yes, it’s possible,” Yates added.

Wednesday’s hearings also included footage of Timothy Tillman’s police interrogation while the suspect was incarcerated in a Florida jail, where he lived when he was arrested on the murder charges.

During the interrogation, Timothy Tillman said his marriage to Janet Tillman was “damaged beyond repair,” and admitted to being charged with a misdemeanor charge of soliciting a prostitute while he was working as a police officer in Minnesota before Janet Tillman’s death.

Also during the footage, Timothy Tillman several times denied intentionally shooting Janet Tillman, claiming her death was an accident.

Testimony is expected to continue through the end of the week. The trial is scheduled to resume Oct. 22 at 9 a.m.