Closing argument questions: Reckless act or tragic accident?
The closing arguments in the trial of accused of driveway shooter Kevin Monahan repeated the central question made by both sides at the beginning of the trial – whether the death of Kaylin Gillis was a reckless act or a tragic accident.
Monahan, 66, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree reckless endangerment and tampering with physical evidence. He allegedly fired shots at vehicles that had mistakenly turned up his driveway on April 15.
Defense attorney Arthur Frost repeated his contention that Monahan’s gun was defective.
“This gun will fire even when no one pulls the trigger,” he said.
He cited the testimony of the State Police gun expert who said that the gun fired during one of the drop tests.
“She had the audacity to then tell you that that gun’s not defective even though she previously told you guns should never fire when no one pulls the trigger,” he said.
Frost then pointed out that the test doesn’t reflect real-world conditions. The gun is being dropped on a mat.
“If I drop an egg onto a pillow, there’s going to be a decidedly different result than if I drop it on the floor because the cushion of the pillow absorbs shock,” he said.
However, in this instance, Monahan had the force of his body weight against the gun when it struck the railing.
Frost had the court officer bring over the gun and hold it in front of the jury.
“Do you have confidence that if he drops it now, it won’t blow a hole in the roof, in the ceiling?” he said.
Frost then asked the jury to remember that Monahan was awakened from a sleep to a motorcycle in the driveway. Then, he looks out the window and sees the vehicles.
“He can see the two SUVs blocking the driveway — the only way leaving this house for this old man and old woman,” he said.
Monahan tells his wife to hide in the closet and gives her a gun and some bullets. Then, Frost said as his client is going downstairs, he is recalling reports of break-ins in the area including one several years ago when an elderly couple was beaten up and robbed. If he calls police, he believes that they may not come until it is too late – or at all.
If you call the police, they might go to the wrong address.
He fires the warning shot and then he is shuffling on his deck and strikes the nail and trips, causing the gun to go off, Frost said.
He showed the nails in one part of the deck – not the one that Monahan was on.
Frost then presented what he called “changed evidence” and “fake evidence.”
Frost pointed out inconsistencies between what the youths said on the stand at various points regarding the position of the vehicles and the position of the gun. He said that some of the teens had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
“That is not offered to suggest in any way that any of these kids in the vehicles to suggest in any way that it was their fault for getting lost,” he said. If any one of them is blaming themselves, they should stop now, because this wasn’t their fault.
In addition, he said the prosecutors have offered no proof that his client destroyed fingerprints or got rid of residue.
There was no evidence that the prints were removed with bleach or peroxide.
Also, he said that investigators couldn’t find the shotgun shell or wadding in a 60,000-square-foot area at the Monahan residence.
“There’s no proof that Mr. Monahan or even Jinx Monahan went outside, grabbed that wadding in 60,000 square feet in the dark,” he said.
In summing up, Frost said that there are a lot of things that his client knows now that he didn’t know then. He didn’t know they were lost teenagers who drove up the wrong driveway.
Frost asked the jury to consider the two lesser charges of manslaughter and second-degree reckless endangerment.
“Maybe you think it was dumb for him to go outside, instead of calling 911. Maybe it was. Maybe you think it was dumb for him to go outside with a loaded shotgun and maybe it was. And maybe it was and maybe you think it was dumb for him to be walking along the rail with a gun that can go off when nobody pulls the trigger, and maybe it was.”
“We have a word for that, and that word is not depraved. That word is not reckless. That word is negligent — doing something that a reasonably prudent person wouldn’t do or not doing something that a prudent person would do,” Frost said.
Prosecution closing statement
In a closing statement that lasted for 2 hours and 20 minutes, First Assistant District Attorney Christian Morris laid out the timeline of the events. Using slides on the projector, he gave details of what was going on at the Monahan house.
“Kevin Monahan murdered Kaylin Gillis,” he said.
Morris explained how the bullet from the shotgun sliced Gillis’ spinal cord, killing her. She with a group of teens in a vehicle that had gotten lost and turned into Monahan’s driveway.
“He did it because it was in his driveway at his house, interrupting his sleep,” Morris said.
Morris said the events happen in less than five minutes. The SUVs and the motorcycle go into Monahan’s driveway up Patterson Hill Road at about 9:45 p.m. and come back at around 9:50 p.m.
It is more like a minute and half when they are in Monahan’s driveway, he said.
“You can’t cook popcorn in 90 seconds. This whole case took place in 90 seconds,” Morris said.
He traced with a marker the line where they intended to go. Both had familiar landmarks of a red barn and a house. The house had a similar style.
Everything told them they were at the right house but when they didn’t see those lights and recognized that this house wasn’t exactly that house, they stopped. They stopped because that’s what lost people do.”
Then, every teen testified on the stand that the two shots were fired within five seconds of each other, Morris said.
“The only person that says that that wasn’t the case is Kevin Monahan,” Morris said.
Morris pointed out that there is a 24-foot height difference from where Monahan was standing on the porch.
The teens frantically try to call 911 after they realize that their friend has been shot. They finally are able to get through to dispatchers and are told to pull over and try to do CPR on their friend. Then, they have to be interviewed by police.
In the meantime, Monahan has been going in and out of his house about 10 times until he surrenders at about 1:30 a.m.
Morris played the 911 calls that Monahan made and the body camera footage of police interviewing on his porch.
He asks police if they are there. He is told that they are there for a noise complaint.
Monahan says to his wife Jinx that he told her to not to play the television so loud.
Later, he tells officers that there are people hunting with dogs out there and he has been asleep.
“It’s a total farce,” Morris said. “It’s part of a charade. His lies were ready and said with ease and confidence. He was calm, cool and collected. Even when officers were at his door, there was no nervousness in his voice.”
Morris questioned why Monahan didn’t tell police what had just happened to him.
“If you were to accept as true, everything the defendant said on the stand, that they were under siege from marauding raiders, do you get any sense from his voice that he just saved his life and his wife’s,” Morris asked.
Morris also attempted rebut Monahan’s testimony that he slipped on a nail. He showed close-up pictures with no signs of protruding nails.
Morris said Monahan is seeking out information about how much they know when he calls 911.
Morris contrasted Monahan’s demeanor with the youths, who just went through a harrowing experience.
Morris said it is only natural that there would be some minor inconsistencies in the teens’ stories.
He also pointed out that the testimony of Kevin Monahan and his wife Jinx were inconsistent with the testimony of the teens and even with each other.
“The only time their stories line up is when they are talking to police,” he said.
“I wish they’d get out of my yard, so I can get back to bed,” he said.
Morris also disputed that investigators had such a wide area to search for the spent shotgun shell and wadding. He showed that the color of the shell is yellow, and the wadding is white. They would clearly be visible with the lighting that was at the scene. Also, Morris said that Monahan would know where the shell and wadding ended up.
“It’s in a direct line from that deck to that car,” Morris said.
Morris also rebutted testimony from Monahan that he only fires his gun a couple times a year. The prosecutor showed a picture of shooting target in Monahan’s house with multiple holes in it.
Morris also pointed out that there was no gunshot residue in the barrel of the gun even after Monahan fired twice. Victoria O’Connor of the New York State Police Forensic Investigations Unit, fired twice with two shells during an operability test of the gun right after the incident. Then, she reinspected the gun in September for more tests.
“Four months later and the residue from her two shots are still there,” Morris said.
The gun was not defective, Morris said. During one of the tests, she could not be sure if the safety was on or off. Professional standards required her to do that test again.
Monahan’s testimony estimates that the incident happened over 15 minutes. None of that lines up with the other testimony and surveillance footage from a neighbor’s camera that shows the two SUVs and motorcycle go down Patterson Hill Road at around 9:45 p.m. and then comes back around 9:50 p.m.
Monahan’s timeline is much different.
“He doesn’t go out of the house for nearly five minutes. It takes another couple minutes before he fires his warning shot.”
Then, another couple of minutes before the motorcycle leaves and he fires the second, fatal shot.
Monahan testified that the motorcycle was “flying” and riding like he had been there before. Another witness said it seemed to be going “gingerly” up the hill and stalled out because he was not going fast enough for third gear.
Monahan said he gave Jinx her revolver and told her to hide in the closet and she stays there until he comes to get her. Jinx Monahan said Kevin told her to stay away from the windows. She is the one who chose to go into the closet. Then, she waited at the top of the stairs for Kevin when the threat was over – instead of her husband coming to get her.
Monahan described his wife as “panicked” and he held her.
These discrepancies go to credibility, Morris said.
Then Morris said Monahan said that he isn’t getting any indication as to what the intent of the vehicles was. He said other people who have gotten lost, approach slowly, roll down the windows, say “sorry, we’re lost.”
Monahan testified that he will go out and talk to them and see what’s up.
Morris said that paints a picture of a friendly helpful neighbor.
“That would assume that if you’re lost, and you don’t ask for directions, he’s going to shoot at you,” he said.
Attorney Frost objected on the grounds that it denigrated his client and moved for a mistrial. Michelini overruled the objection.
Morris went on to say that Frost “blame-shifts the responsibility of Kaylin Gillis’ death onto the teens for not acting lost.”
After Monahan fires the warning shot, Morris said Monahan believed he was “starting a dialogue.”
That is not the case. Instead, Monahan re-racked another round and got ready to fire.
Morris then cited Monahan’s own words that he “flinched” that led to the stumble on the deck. He cited how he was holding the gun with his right hand on the grip and the left hand on the side. Morris said Monahan testified that he broke his wrist decades ago and that caused him to grip a gun in that fashion.
However, Morris said Monahan’s wrist discomfort doesn’t square with his testimony that he is a contractor that spends all day framing, sheetrocking, installing electrical systems.
Monahan also is a competitive motorcross racer and that as recently as 2018 was riding as much as 60 miles over 2 hours.
Morris also showed a picture of Monahan’s beach sandals that weren’t scuffed up in any way.
Morris said Monahan didn’t fire a third shot because he knew he hit something on the second shot.
Morris also showed pictures of the inside of Monahan’s house where everything is tidy and organized – except for an area in Monahan’s basement with cabinet door open that shows sanitary wipes.
The clothing he was wearing at the time also was downstairs in that area.
His shotgun rounds were upstairs in a box with slugs and birdshot mixed in together.
Morris said Monahan wiped off the gun just enough to lead authorities to believe that it hadn’t been fired when it was.
The jury received the case at about 2:30 p.m. after being charged by Judge Michelini.
At around 4 p.m., the jury asked for an explanation again of the difference between murder and manslaughter. They also asked for a readback of testimony by Jinx Monahan in which she said her husband shoots at small varmints such as squirrels and vehicles.
Morris said Monahan created a “grave and unjustifiable” risk when he fired his gun at the vehicles.
“He aimed it. he pulled the trigger. He loaded another round in the chamber. He put another round into the chamber and killed Kaylin Gills.
Morris said Monahan did not act out of fear.
“He acted out of a baser emotion. He acted out of anger. That’s the only thing that can be inferred by shooting at people within 90 seconds of being at his property.
“He grabbed his shotgun and intended to make them leave as fast as possible and he didn’t care if they were hurt or killed just as long as they left,” he said.
He shot at the vehicles in the back and when police were investigating, he said “I wish they’d get out of my yard so I can get back to bed.”
Morris ended by showing the jurors pictures of Monahan’s property and of Gillis dead with the gunshot wound.