A prosecutor described Demeatrius Montgomery on Wednesday as a man with "deep-seated hatred for police" that drove him to shoot Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officers Jeff Shelton and Sean Clark in 2007.
The lead defense attorney told jurors with equal certainty: "That young man is innocent."
The seven men and five women on the Mecklenburg jury will resume deliberations in the case today, after reviewing evidence for about two hours late Wednesday afternoon.
The courtroom in uptown Charlotte was packed Wednesday with spectators. Some who came to watch closing arguments were turned away. Police Chief Rodney Monroe and homicide detectives sat in the front row behind prosecutors. Montgomery's father and grandmother sat in a row behind the defense table.
In her closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Marsha Goodenow portrayed Montgomery as a man who shot Shelton and Clark because they were officers.
"They were the thin blue line that protected us from chaos, that protected us from crime...," the prosecutor said of the slain officers. "That thin blue line was breached by a man with hatred in his heart for those who keep us safe."
Prosecution witnesses had testified Montgomery's DNA was on the revolver found in the woods near the Timber Ridge shooting scene, that gunshot residue was found on Montgomery's palms and that the handgun found in the woods fired the bullets removed from Clark's head. Two prosecution witnesses also said they saw Montgomery running with a gun after they heard shots fired.
But Montgomery's attorney, Duane Bryant, told jurors that prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that his client killed the officers. He questioned the validity of the DNA and fingerprint evidence that prosecutors used to link Montgomery to the murders. And he reminded jurors that no witness claimed to have seen Montgomery pull the trigger.
Bryant pointed at Montgomery: "Take a look. Don't be afraid to look at him. He's innocent of this crime."
Montgomery is charged in the March 31, 2007, fatal shootings of Officers Shelton and Clark at the Timber Ridge Apartments in east Charlotte. Prosecutors say the officers were shot during a scuffle with Montgomery; defense attorneys have suggested someone else shot the officers in a sneak attack.
Montgomery has pleaded not guilty. If convicted of first-degree murder, he would be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Jurors also will consider whether the police officers' killings were second-degree murders. Four of the jurors are black. The slain police officers are white; Montgomery is black.
The prosecution's closing argument came first. Goodenow called Clark and Shelton extraordinary men who had chosen an extraordinary profession. On the night of their killings, they had responded to an unrelated domestic call at Timber Ridge, she said, and had treated the people involved with "respect and kindness."
The prosecutor said the officers were gunned down after finishing their work at the domestic disturbance. The killings, she said, took just seconds.
"They had no reason to think he was a threat...," Goodenow said. "They had no reason to know that a man with that kind of hatred was sitting on the porch waiting for them."