Trial begins in death of sheriff’s deputy
WAYNESBURG – Testimony began Monday morning in Greene County Court in the trial of Jerod A. Green, 36, of Morgantown, formerly of Oklahoma, who is charged with the murder of a law enforcement official in the Feb. 18 death of Monongalia County, W.Va., sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Michael Todd May, 41.
May died as the result of a crash that occurred at the end of a police chase involving Green and officers from multiple West Virginia police departments. The pursuit began after Granville, W.Va., police pulled Green over as a suspect in a hit-and-run accident on Easton Hill Road in Morgantown Feb. 17 involving a car driven by Skylar Johnson, 19, of Morgantown.
An audio recording of the traffic stop involving Green was played for the jury. He initially denied being involved in the hit-and-run, claiming the damage to his vehicle came from striking the Cheat Lake Bridge, but he eventually acknowledged his involvement in the accident claiming Johnson was at fault. Green proceeded to tell the officer, Sgt. David Wilfong of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, the reason he left the scene was because he had four previous felony arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol. Wilfong is then heard requesting Green exit the vehicle for a field sobriety test followed by the sound of an enginee revving, Green driving away and Wilfong repeatedly yelling for him to stop. Wilfong testified his arm was inside Green’s truck as he pulled away.
The officers followed Green as he traveled along Route 100 to Route 19 through Mount Morris to the I-79 South entrance ramp. Officers testified Green entered the right lane of traffic on I-79 south and then drove into the passing lane before striking May’s vehicle that they believed to be stopped at an angle in the median.
Monongalia County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. James Burks, who was involved in the pursuit, said Green swerved toward his patrol car twice during the chase. He said he alerted his fellow officers by radio to exercise caution. “I felt Mr. Green would harm them if given the opportunity,” Burks said. “There was nothing that led me to believe he had any intention to stop whatsoever.”
Burks was the first officer on the scene after the accident involving May.
“At the top of the entrance ramp, I saw Mr. Green’s vehicle cross both southbound lanes in a straight line,” Burks said. “He went right to left across the lanes straight into Sgt. May’s vehicle. In my mind I’m telling him, ‘Sgt. May get out of the way.’ I didn’t see any attempt not to hit Sgt. May’s vehicle whatsoever.”
Burks’ testimony of what happened matched that of fellow officers who arrived on the scene immediately following the crash. The officers said there was a lot of smoke and debris falling upon impact. Burks said it sounded like a bomb going off when the vehicles made contact and May’s vehicle spun violently from being struck.
It was an emotionally charged day for Mays’ friends and family as 17 witnesses, including Jeffrey Haught, Monongalia County medical examiner, took the stand to discuss various aspects of the day May was killed. Others who testified included Green’s former girlfriend who discussed text and phone messages between them in the hours leading up to the crash. A bartender from the Ruby Tuesday Restaurant in Morgantown, as well as patrons of Bugsy’s Tavern, who had interactions with Green Feb. 17, also testified. The patrons of Bugsy’s said Green appeared to be intoxicated, slurring his words, and leaning on their table.
Green’s blood-alcohol content after the accident involving May was determined to be 0.189 percent. Green also was heard on the recording during the traffic stop telling Wilfort he had taken Lithium, Zoloft, and Depakote for bipolar disorder.
In her opening statement, Greene County District Attorney Marjorie Fox told the jury Green’s vehicle became a deadly weapon that hit May with such speed and force as to make his death inevitable. Fox asserted Green drove directly at May after leading police on the chase from Route 100 in W.Va., across the Pennsylvania state line to Mt. Morris and onto the southbound ramp of I-79.
Green’s defense attorney John Bongivengo said his client did not intend to kill May or even to cause an accident. Bongivengo said he will prove May was traveling in the driving lane of I-79 instead of stopped in the median, where witnesses would say his vehicle was located at the time of impact.
Other charges against Green include homicide by vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, criminal homicide and related charges.
May was pronounced dead at 2:35 a.m. Feb. 18 as the result of multiple head injuries consistent with being in an auto accident, according to Haught.