Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated an investigator said Jacob, the 2-year-old victim, was shot in the kitchen, then moved to the bed and then the floor as his father performed CPR on him. The story has been corrected to reflect the investigator's testimony claiming he thought everything began in the bedroom, rather than the kitchen.
A woman whose 2-year-old son accidentally killed himself while playing with a pistol said she thought her husband had gotten rid of the gun, but still wanted to believe in him during the months after their child’s death.
“I wanted to believe he loved Jacob and me and I didn’t want to believe he was a bad person,” Heather Bible, formerly Heather Mitchell, told a jury.
She was the last witness in the state’s case against Christopher Mitchell, 29. He’s charged with felony murder and aggravated child neglect. Police also charged Mitchell with tampering with evidence and identity theft, charges that won’t go to the jury because he pleaded guilty to those as the trial got under way.
Those charges stem from Mitchell hiding the gun after the shooting, and that he gave police a false name. He later told police it was because he wanted to hurry their interview along so he could get to the hospital and he knew there was a probation violation warrant on him.
During Bible’s testimony, Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks asked her about Jacob’s tendency to climb onto the counters and get into cabinets, which is Mitchell’s explanation of how his son could have reached the gun. Bible said she never saw Jacob get into the cabinet, particularly the one above the range — which is where Mitchell said the gun was located — and that she would grab him when he got onto the counters.
The day of the shooting, Bible said she saw the gun in question when she and Mitchell were at her parents’ home and said her father, Russell White, warned Mitchell how dangerous it was.
White also testified about that encounter.
During her shift cleaning at Johnson City Medical Center that night, Bible said she checked in several times with Mitchell and her son. The last time she talked to Jacob was around 9:30 p.m.
“He said ‘Hey mommy. When can we come get you,’ ” she said. She told him it would be a little while and told him that she loved him.
Later that evening, Bible said she was paged to report to the first floor. Her boss met her and said, “Jacob’s here,” she testified.
Bible didn’t want to believe it and called Mitchell and he told her Jacob had fallen, hit the bed and “had a hole in his face.” She would soon learn it was a gunshot to his face and her son was dead.
She said she called Mitchell back, screamed at him and “told him I hated him.”
Bible’s raw emotion caused Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood to take a short recess so she could compose herself.
On cross examination, co-counsel Ashley Boyer, asked how Jacob got onto the counter and if she got him down before he could open the cabinets. Bible testified that Jacob pushed a chair to the kitchen counter to climb up and that she would get him down before he tried to open a cabinet.
Earlier in the day, jurors heard a state firearms expert testify that the gun located outside the Value Place Motel, where the Mitchells were staying with their son and where the shooting happened, matched the shell casing found in the room and the bullet taken from Jacob’s head.
The testimony got much more technical when Johnson City Police Investigator Bob Odom testified about gathering evidence at the scene and the blood-spatter analysis he conducted.
According to Odom, there were two large areas of blood — one on the foot of the bed and the other on the floor at the foot of the bed. Blood drops also were located in the kitchenette area leading to the door.
But Odom said the chair pushed against the kitchen counter was moved there after other blood spots found close to the chair leg.
He said he believes the incident started in the bedroom, then Mitchell moved his son to the floor where he performed CPR on him.
He said tiny blood spots on the kitchen floor were located under the chair and “matter can’t go through matter.” Then around the chair leg were larger blood spots, which he said were actually several drops in one spot.
Odom said that indicated Mitchell was holding Jacob at that spot for a period of time. At least a foot closer to the door, there were more large spots of blood, possibly when Mitchell was trying to get out of the room.
He took Jacob outside the hotel after hearing rescue vehicles arrive, according to his statement to police.
Police interviewed Mitchell twice — once just a couple of hours after the shooting and again several hours later after discovering things he said didn’t match the evidence.
Mitchell continued to tell police that his son was always getting onto the countertop to get into the cabinet, and he revealed more information about the gun his son found.
Apparently, someone had pawned the gun to him for $60 and was supposed to get it that day but only had $40 so Mitchell wouldn’t release the gun. He said the man was in the room and had the gun. He told the man to unload the gun and put it on top of the cabinet so Jacob couldn’t reach it, but he didn’t realize until it was too late that the man put it inside the cabinet instead.
The jury also heard parts of several phone calls between Mitchell and Bible in the days after Jacob’s death. The two talked about what police had said or done and Mitchell indicated he thinks Bible blames him for their son’s death.
With her testimony Tuesday, it’s apparent she does hold him responsible.
After Bible’s testimony, the state rested its case and Blackwood sent the jury home for the night.
The defense will begin it’s case this morning with Mitchell indicating to Blackwood he will testify.
Mitchell is in custody, serving a 15-year federal sentence for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. That charge stemmed from the weapon that killed his son.