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Trial begins in shooting of Pittsburgh police officer

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James Robert Hill, 25

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Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 5:15 p.m.
 

The fourth bullet that prosecutors say James Robert Hill fired in a dark and wooded area of Homewood more than two years ago tore through Pittsburgh police Officer Morgan Jenkins' armpit, damaged his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down.

“It felt like a bolt of lightning, and I fell to the ground,” Jenkins said on Tuesday. “I started yelling ‘Officer down!' and continued to return fire.”

Hill, 25, a fugitive who had escaped from Gateway Rehabilitation Center — a halfway house — about a year before the April 11, 2013, gunfight, is charged with attempted homicide, assault of a law enforcement officer and related counts.

His trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman began with several members of the department's top brass in attendance, including acting police Chief Regina McDonald and Mike Huss, the city's former public safety director.

Jenkins, who uses a wheelchair, detailed for the jury how a blown stop sign led to a high-speed chase through a residential neighborhood, a violent fight with Hill and the exchange of gunfire in a wooded area between Apple and Chaucer streets.

He spent five days at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland so doctors could repair his lung and remove the bullet from his spine, and more than a month at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, for rehabilitation.

Jenkins said he has “some sensations/feelings (in his legs),” but no mobility. He has been out of work since the shooting.

Hill's lawyer, Robert Foreman, acknowledged during his opening statement that his client ran from the officers, but he said he blacked out during the gunfire in the woods. Foreman said Hill doesn't recall much from that night, but is certain that he didn't fire a gun.

“He did not shoot at or try to injure any officer,” Foreman said.

Hill, who was wounded in the shootout, told investigators from his hospital room at UPMC Presbyterian that he had 10 shots at a bar in Homewood the night before the shooting.

“I was drunk. I have no clue what was going on,” the Homewood man told homicide Detective Robert Shaw after verbally waiving his Miranda rights. “Tell him I'm sorry. Tell his family I'm sorry,” he told Shaw.

Before the trial began, Foreman tried to exclude the tape as evidence because, he argued, his client was heavily medicated and doesn't remember waiving his rights.

Deputy District Attorney Ilan Zur said Hill “fabricated” not remembering what he told the detectives, and Cashman denied Foreman's request.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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