In September 2017, a police detective took a mere 18 minutes to decide that Trevor Wells had committed premeditated first-degree murder during a violent struggle in his La Vergne home.
It took preeminent Crime Scene Analyst Johnny Lawrence of Berry-Waltz Investigations (BWI) four days to reconstruct the crime scene and determine Trevor had told the truth the entire time – he’d acted in self-defense.
A Rutherford County jury agreed in March 2022. Trevor Wells was found not guilty of first-degree murder in a case that Johnny Lawrence and defense attorney Joshua T. Crain say wound up in court because of a police officer’s rush to judgment.
“Our client gave seven different statements and all of them were consistent,” Johnny explained. “The detective hadn’t had many cases before. He based his probable cause on his theory rather than facts.
“When he first pulled up to the scene, the detective started an audio recording,” Johnny said. “What I found is that 18 minutes after arriving on scene – before he has any documentation of the victim’s injuries or even talked to our client – he says, ‘this is premeditated.’ It’s what we called cognitive bias, where you start forming opinions and try to make the evidence at the scene fit your theory.”
Johnny Lawrence gained his crime scene expertise by being involved in nearly 1,000 homicide investigations in addition to other types of death investigations since 1982. He is a former Nashville Metropolitan Police Department detective. Johnny has taken extensive training in crime scene investigations and bloodstain patterns during his 39-year career and now provides similar training to lawyers and other independent investigators.
The incident Johnny investigated occurred when Trevor Wells tried to wake a man asleep in Trevor’s home and kick him out of the house. The man, Brandon Marable, was an acquaintance of Trevor’s then-wife. Trevor was concerned Brandon was using methamphetamines and that no one else was at home with Trevor’s children. When Trevor woke Brandon by kicking the chair he was sleeping in, Brandon attacked Trevor. A struggle ensued, mostly in Trevor’s kitchen, and Trevor shot Brandon three times.
Defense lawyer Joshua T. Crain said Johnny’s investigation and trial testimony helped lay the groundwork that Trevor’s account was credible.
“The work Johnny was able to do was twofold: One, he was able to point out things that the investigator for the police department had either missed or done wrong. Two, he was able to recreate the scene, so we had a better idea of whether or not our client’s version of events was even plausible,” Joshua said.
There was a bullet strike mark on the linoleum kitchen floor from where a bullet exited the victim’s body and hit the floor. Police photographed and cut out that flooring section – a key piece of evidence – but didn’t retain it or run dowel rods into it to determine the bullet trajectory. This would have been important, the defense attorney said, for police to determine whether Trevor’s version of events was accurate or inaccurate.
Johnny’s examination of the crime scene photographs showed a bevel in the flooring that helped him determine directionality of the bullet. He testified that based on the way the linoleum beveled when the bullet hit it, he could determine directionality of the bullet, which was fired from a high-caliber, small gun – a .40-caliber Walther.
A firearms expert testified that Trevor’s account was plausible. He explained the .40-caliber Walther has a high muzzle velocity; the recoil on the gun caused the bullets to “climb” as the gun was fired. That matched the bullet trajectories on the floor and the bullet pattern in the victim’s body. A doctor also testified about how methamphetamines can affect someone’s behavior.
“Johnny was able to recreate the scene and recreate the investigation that should have been done,” defense attorney Joshua Crain said.
Johnny’s expertise worked “in concert with firearms expert and, ultimately, a medical doctor who testified about the irrational, aggressive behavior of a person who is highly intoxicated on methamphetamines, which is what the victim was,” the defense attorney said.
Joshua said Trevor is greatly relieved. “He had this hanging over his head since 2017. He faced life in prison with no chance of parole; that’s how close he came.”
Trevor’s family retained Joshua Crain, and he was able to apply for and receive court funding to hire Berry-Waltz Investigations.
“I have been doing criminal defense work for 17 years, and this case is a prime example of why I believe competent criminal defense attorneys should always hire qualified, high-caliber defense investigators and defense experts such as Berry-Waltz Investigations,” Joshua said.
For more information about how BWI can assist in the defense of your clients, please call us at (615) 646-0860 or message us through this contact form.