Modified gun on exhibit list for Bates trial raises questions

Robert Bates, right, arrives at the Tulsa County Jail with his attorney, Clark Brewster.

New developments came to light Wednesday in the second-degree manslaughter trial of former Tulsa County reserve deputy Robert Bates.

Bates is accused of killing Eric Harris during an undercover operation in 2015. The former reserve has pleaded not guilty, saying he accidentally grabbed his gun instead of his Taser.

Bates' gun and a different one discussed in court this week are now creating more controversy.

According to court documents obtained by Tulsa's Channel 8, Clark Brewster, Bates' defense attorney, says a sample gun included in an early exhibit list, which was modified to have a light trigger pull, was used by experts expected to testify on behalf of the defense.

The sample gun, referred to in court documents as an "exemplar," is a duplicate of the Smith & Wesson .357 revolver Bates' used in Harris' shooting.

Brewster says a gunsmith at the gun shop he owns altered the gun from a standard trigger to a hair trigger. Brewster says he believed Bates' gun had a light trigger and he wanted the sample gun to be accurate for his experts.

"I've never had a revolver with a trigger pull so light, just so absolutely, unbelievably light," said Brewster, according to the court documents, referring to dry-firing Bates' revolver.

Brewster says the sample gun was only intended for use by his experts at his office and he never planned to introduce it into evidence unless the state wanted to use it instead of Bates' actual gun. However, the modified gun was included on Bates' initial exhibit list and was only excluded after the state's motion in limine, according to court documents.

According to court documents, a former employee of Brewster's gun shop came forward after being asked to alter the gun.

In an affidavit, Michael Hardison says a manager approached him March 8, 2016, asking him to modify a gun expected to be used in Bates' criminal trial. The next day, Hardison followed up with his manager, saying he had a problem with modifying the revolver and noting "that it was improper to modify a 'duty weapon'," which he learned during his training at the Colorado School of Trade where he became a licensed gunsmith.

When Hardinson asked why Bates' original gun wasn't to be used in the trial, he says in the affidavit that his manager said the jury would be "too stupid" to understand the difference.

Hardison says he told his manager he could not perform the modification and he resigned the next day.

"A reasonable inference, supported by Mr. Hardison's affidavit and Mr. Brewster's comments during the criminal hearing, is that Mr. Bates and his attorneys intended to introduce the modified weapon to the jury, hoping the jury would not understand the difference between a modified weapon and a stock weapon, and that they would believe that Mr. Bates honestly confused the revolver with his Taser and easily pulled the light trigger without thinking," reads a motion filed by attorney Dan Smolen, who represents the Harris family.

Smolen on Wednesday filed an emergency motion order, compelling the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office to produce Bates' revolver for expert testing to determine if it, in fact, has a hair trigger. The gun is presently in the evidence room at the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, but after the trial is over Smolen says the gun will be released to Bates and his attorneys and can be altered at any time.

Brewster tells Tulsa's Channel 8 he never intended to present the gun in court and the notion that he would is ridiculous.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday.

*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the sample gun was brought to court by Bates' attorney, Clark Brewster. The story also reported the motion for expert testing on Bates' gun was filed by the state when it was actually filed by an attorney on behalf of Eric Harris' family.

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