WESTMORELAND — Pablo Gonzalez buried his head in his hands as jurors in Pottawatomie County District Court listened on Tuesday to a recording of an interview conducted just hours after Levi Bishop was shot and killed early Jan. 1 in St. Marys.
Gonzalez is on trial for second-degree murder in Bishop’s death and an aggravated assault for allegedly pointing a gun at the head of another man sometime earlier that morning.
In the interview recording, Capt. Gerald Schmidt and Det. Eric Green of the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Department are heard attempting to wake Gonzalez as paramedics are about to draw a blood sample to test for alcohol content level.
Once they roused Gonzalez, Schmidt began to ask questions.
Schmidt asked whether the gun was in his hand when it went off and killed Bishop.
“I have no clue, dude,” Gonzalez answered.
Gonzalez repeatedly denied knowing how Bishop was shot and insisted it was an accident.
“It was an accidental discharge, dude,” a distressed Gonzalez told Schmidt in the recording.
Later in the interview, Gonzalez told Green that the trigger safety the 40-caliber pistol is equipped with isn’t reliable. The gun, Gonzalez said, could have gone off after the car hit a bump or some other way.
“I don’t know how the f— shot went off, and it just f— killed him,” said Gonzalez, clearly distressed.
By that point, Green had left the room because Gonzalez invoked his right to have an attorney present. The interview and questions came to a halt, though a conversation between Gonzalez and Green continued for a while.
Gonzalez, who at the time was dating Bishop’s sister, said in the recording that he viewed Bishop as a brother-in-law and hung out with him frequently.
Gonzalez broke down and cried repeatedly in the recording. In the courtroom on Tuesday, he could often be seen holding his head or bent over in his chair at the defendant’s table, looking down at the floor.
According to a criminal complaint, the second-degree murder charge Gonzalez faces comes with two alternatives: intentional or unintentional but reckless.
Though that’s up to the jury, at some point, a 40-caliber gun that Gonzalez told police he was “sort of borrowing” discharged inside the car that he, Bishop and two other young men were inside that night in St. Marys.
They had been out partying and drinking heavily to celebrate the New Year.
In the recording, Gonzalez told Schmidt he didn’t remember having driven through St. Marys and then to the St. Marys Police Department after the incident occurred.
According to investigators, the shot likely was fired while the car was near the intersection of Highway 63 and Durink Street in St. Marys.
Pottawatomie Sheriff’s Department Captain Bradley Burgess collected evidence at the intersection.
During his testimony in court, Burgess said he found vehicle glass and blood matching Bishop’s.
Inside Gonzalez’s black Honda Accord, which Burgess said was still parked outside the police department when he arrived, Burgess found Gonzalez’s 40-caliber pistol, five shell casings of two different makes, an empty gun clip and a partially emptied gun clip.
A hole found in the instrument panel of the driver’s console was consistent with a bullet, Burgess said.
Gonzalez’s attorney, Ron Evans, asked Burgess if he associated the highway scene as where the shot was fired.
“My opinion would be yes,” Burgess said.
Bishop’s body was still on the floor of the car when Burgess examined it. At his feet was a half-gallon bottle of Black Heart Rum.
Later Tuesday, Dr. Erik Mitchell, the forensic pathologist from Kansas City, Kan., who performed Bishop’s autopsy, said Bishop died from a gunshot wound to the neck.
Mitchell added that marks and lines near Bishop’s wound suggested the gun muzzle had contacted his skin while the gun was fired.
Though no other trauma was discovered, Mitchell said Bishop was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana when he died. His blood-alcohol content was 0.212.
Bishop also had a trace amount of methamphetamine in his system.
Gonzalez began a long morning of speaking to police after he stopped his car at the St. Marys Police Department at about 5 a.m.
In his testimony, Green said Gonzalez’s first contact with police was at the department, where he advised the officer there “that he had shot his boy in the face.”
Both Green and Schmidt testified that they were under the direction of Pottawatomie County Sheriff Greg Riat to interview Gonzalez at about 8:30 a.m., even though he was still drunk.
His blood sample from that morning later returned to show that, at the time of the interview, he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.25.
Schmidt told Pottawatomie County Attorney Sherrie Schuck that he initially wanted to get Gonzalez to the Sheriff’s Department, get him some food and then interview him.
But he said he now feels it was better to interview Gonzalez at that time.
“As you all know, anyone who’s ever consumed any (large amount of alcohol), your memory kind of fades,” Schmidt said.
Evans asked Schmidt if he believed Gonzalez would have been more able to recall what had happened in his drunken state than if he had had time to sober up.
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
Schmidt was the last witness of the day before District Judge Jeff Elder called for a recess until Wednesday morning.
The trial is set to continue through the week.
“It would appear we’re on a timetable to conclude this trial before Friday,” Elder said in court.