Defense Rests in Christopher Taylor Murder Trial, Closing Arguments Begin

Judge Dayna Blazey stands in the parking lot where Michael Ramos died (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The Chronicle will be in the courtroom and provide ongoing coverage of the Christopher Taylor trial. Catch up on the case and the ramifications of the verdict in this story.

Austin Police Officer Christopher Taylor’s defense has rested their case in the trial in which Taylor stands accused of murdering Michael Ramos three years ago. Prosecutors in the Travis County District Attorney’s office rested their case last week.

Closing arguments in the Taylor trial begin this afternoon, Nov. 7. Each party will have one hour and 15 minutes to close their case, per a ruling from District Judge Dayna Blazey who has presided over the trial. After closing arguments are made, the case will be in the hands of the jury. The 12 jurors impaneled to decide Taylor’s guilt or innocence will have as long as they need to deliberate on a verdict, also per a Blazey order.

The 12th day of the trial began with a surprise – a visit to the apartment complex parking lot where Taylor shot and killed Ramos as he was driving away from the phalanx of officers confronting him on the evening of April 24, 2020. The excursion, which lasted about 30 minutes, was proposed by prosecutors and agreed to by the defense. A key question in the trial has been what Ramos intended to do when he started driving. Video evidence shows Ramos driving forward before turning to the right and away from officers. Prosecutors have said this shows Ramos was attempting to flee. The defense says Taylor could not have known that and fired in defense of himself and the other officers on the scene.

Jurors roamed the parking lot eyeing the potential path Ramos could have taken in his Prius – around officers, through two trees, past the parking lot, and on to Pleasant Valley Road. All of the jurors got off the bus to participate in the site visit, though doing so was optional; several were seen taking notes.

The day prior, Nov. 6, saw defense attorneys Doug O’Connell and Ken Ervin present their final witnesses – including an expert in a type of science called “photogrammetry” that can be used to recreate crime scenes through digital renderings. The defense’s expert, Hank Mowry, offered a different perspective on the events than the state’s own photogrammetrist who testified earlier in the trial.

The key difference between the two experts was in depicting what Taylor may have seen when he was staring down the optic of his AR 15 semi automatic rifle in the moments before killing Ramos. The defense’s rendering showed a much narrower field of view than the state’s animation, indicating – in their expert’s view – that it would have been harder for Taylor to see that the Prius was turning to flee.

Following Mowry’s presentation, the defense brought to the stand David Gilden – a former astronomer who for the past three decades has studied and taught the psychology around human perception. Gilden, a UT-Austin professor who also testified for the defense in the criminal trial involving Austin Police Officers Robert Pfaff and Donald Petraitis (they were acquitted in 2019), was expected to be a key witness for the defense.

The crux of Gilden’s testimony was that, in his view, it would not have been possible for Taylor to focus his attention on anything else with much detail once he took aim at Ramos – including that the Prius was turning away from officers. “Successful aiming is not having a broad, generalized viewpoint,” Gilden said from the stand. “Successful aiming involves compact focus.”

It is unclear how Gilden’s analysis landed with jurors. His testimony was sprawling, veering into the philosophical (“we are not in the business of perceiving reality,” Gilden said of human perception at one point), and at times highly critical of the prosecution’s case (he was left “incredulous” by the state’s focus on “irrelevancies” related to their expert’s digital recreation of the shooting.)

We will have more after closing arguments and when a verdict is announced.

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