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Posted on March 12, 2003
By Tom Langhorne, Staff Writer, email@example.com
Paramedic Trevor Johnston was shot in the face during a house call in 1999.
Pausing often to collect himself, barely able to look at photographs of the bloody scene where he was shot in the face nearly four years ago, paramedic Trevor Johnston pointed an accusing finger Tuesday at the woman who he says pulled the trigger.
Johnston, 31, told a jury that Hong Thi Tuyet Ho shot him suddenly and without warning about 12 minutes after he and his partner arrived at her Duncan home to answer an “unknown medical emergency” call. The incident occurred at about 8:15 p.m. on May 16, 1999.
Wearing his uniform as he has throughout the trial, Johnston recalled that Ho had repeatedly insisted he and his partner drive her to Atlanta to see “Vietnamese doctors” because doctors who had treated her here did not understand her.
Johnston told of struggling to make Ho — who had minimal command of the English language despite having lived in this country since the late 1980s — understand that he could not drive her to Atlanta.
Ho’s attorneys are putting on an insanity defense, arguing that she was suffering from a tortuous mental illness when she shot Johnston and that her condition was made worse by the taking of improper medication after a mistaken diagnosis of depression. They say Ho was legally insane and not responsible for her actions when improperly medicated.
Prosecutors contend that Ho, 43, could tell right from wrong even with whatever mental illness she may have been suffering.
Johnston testified that, in the moments before Ho shot him, his interest was piqued when she mentioned that she had medicine she had not taken. He said he followed her into her kitchen, thinking she was going to show it to him.
The diminutive Ho stood on a wooden stool and reached into a cabinet, Johnston recalled. But instead of showing him a bottle of pills, he said, Ho produced a .38-caliber pistol and shot him before he could react.
Assistant Solicitor Tommy Wall handed the weapon to Johnston on the witness stand.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that gun was pointed straight at me — no question,” Johnston said.
The paramedic would later tell defense attorney John B. White Jr. that Ho showed no hesitation in shooting him between his upper lip and nose. The bullet lodged a short distance from Johnston’s spine, near the second and third vertebras.
Asked what he remembers about the moments after he was shot, Johnston said, “I remember telling someone to straighten my legs out because they were bunched around under me.”
“I looked at (partner Bryan Helms) and said, ‘Please don’t let me die,’ ” Johnston said, his eyes clouding at the memory.
Earlier in the day, the courtroom sat in complete silence for about 20 minutes as prosecutors showed the jury a videotape of the scene at Ho’s house after Johnston was shot.
The camera repeatedly visited the blood-spattered area where Johnston went down and where his equipment still lay. Throughout the presentation, Johnston averted his gaze from the screen. He sighed deeply when shown photographs of the scene during his testimony.
Defense attorney White bore in on Johnston, confronting the paramedic with things he said in a June 17, 1999 statement to investigators that cast doubt on Ho’s sanity.
Johnston, who had testified that Ho was not hysterical before shooting him, denied that any of the other emergency responders at her home warned him she had mental problems. But White made him read a section of his statement in which he acknowledged that a Reidville Fire Department employee had told him Ho was a “possible mental patient.”
In the afternoon, as prosecutors rested their case and the defense began presenting witnesses of its own, both sides pounded home their central themes.
Ho’s lawyers consistently portrayed her as mentally unbalanced at the time she shot Johnston. They produced several witnesses to testify about a March 20, 1999 incident during which a screaming and irrational Ho had to be forcibly removed from her home. Afterward, the attorneys said, she was shuttled between medical hospitals and mental health institutions.
But Wall and Assistant Solicitor Bob Coler elicited from the defense witnesses that they had no formal training in psychology, and that they had not been present to witness Ho’s behavior on the night she shot Johnston.
One prosecution witness who was present for both incidents, Reidville Fire Department volunteer Tim Brady, testified Monday that Ho’s behavior on May 16, 1999 was “totally different” from her behavior the previous March.
The defense also dwelled on Ho’s suicidal ruminations — and at least one unsuccessful attempt to kill herself — in the Spartanburg County jail hours after her arrest. They played a five-minute videotape of an apparently defiant and incoherent Ho at the jail, being physically subdued by detention officers.
Ho faces charges of assault and battery with intent to kill and possession of a weapon during a crime of violence. The offenses combined are punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
The trial will resume today at 9:30 a.m.
Tom Langhorne can be reached at 582-4511, Ext. 7221, or firstname.lastname@example.org.