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Second day of testimony in Carter County attempted-murder trial; injured deputy takes stand

Becky Campbell • Updated Jan 29, 2019 at 7:42 PM

JONESBOROUGH — Carter County Sheriff’s Deputy Jenna Markland told a jury Tuesday that it felt like a grenade went off when she was shot in the face three years ago after responding to a call about an intoxicated man waving gun.

“I honestly felt like a grenade exploded on the side of my face,” Markland testified. She said she opened the car door and got on the ground for a little cover.

The testimony came just before lunch during the second day of trial for 39-year-old Kelly Pitts. He faces seven counts of attempted first-degree murder and seven counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The incident happened Dec. 16, 2015, when Markland was in the third of four phases of field training after she had completed the police academy.

She was the passenger in the police cruiser of Sgt. David Caldwell, her training officer, when they arrived at 424 Dry Hollow Road around 8:45 p.m. They arrived right behind Officer Jason Mosier, a deputy at the time but now an Elizabethton police officer, and about 10 minutes after Sheriff Dexter Lunceford had reached the scene.

The deputies testified that almost immediately upon their arrival, gunfire started coming at them from a trailer where the original call came from about an intoxicated man with a gun.

Caldwell testified that he got out of the driver’s side and immediately heard gunfire. He had his flashlight because it was dark, but he dropped it and it rolled down the road. He took cover on the passenger’s side of the car and saw that Markland didn’t have her weapon out and asked her where it was.

“She said she didn’t know and I gave her my gun,” Caldwell said. He also instructed Markland to get on the radio to tell dispatch they were taking fire. She did that, and also relayed that she had been hit.

“I reached in and grabbed the mic and said, ‘Shots fired. Shots fired.’” Markland said. She knew she was hit, but didn’t know how bad it was.

“I asked (Caldwell) if I was OK. He said I was fine, but I didn’t feel fine,” Markland testified. “I remember taking my tongue and running it around my teeth. I had all my teeth, so I felt a little better. I touched my face and there was a lot of blood.”

Markland and Brandy Hyder were whisked away from the scene to medical personnel staged in a safer location while the Carter County and Elizabethton police SWAT teams went in to arrest Pitts. It didn’t turn out to be such an easy task as officers surrounded the trailer for hours before shooting in tear gas and entering to search for him. He wasn’t there, so the search spread out to the surrounding area.

Pitts was later arrested near a cave where police said he was trying to hide. Carter County Capt. Patrick Johnson, head of the county’s SWAT team, said he helped take Pitts into custody, but turned him over to Elizabethton police because “emotions were high” about Markland’s injury.

Jurors also heard testimony from several TBI agents who worked the crime scene or examined evidence:

• Agent Teri Arney, a weapons expert, testified she was given 52 shell casings to examine and determined they were fired from two different weapons recovered from Pitts’ residence.

• Agent Michael Bleakley testified he was in charge of the violent crime team that investigated the shooting. On direct examination he testified about all the bullet holes found in police cruisers and a nearby car garage as well as several projectiles and fragments that were recovered. But on cross examination from Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers, he acknowledged that agents did not collect any of the beer cans or a pack of rolling papers that were in the bedroom where Pitts was located.

Bleakley did testify that if there had been any illegal substances or drug paraphernalia found, agents would have collected that.

In opening statements on Monday, Sellers talked to the jury about Pitts’ alcohol and drug use and that he was intoxicated the day of the shooting. Pitts’ girlfriend at the time, Brandy Hyder testified earlier this week that Pitts had been acting irrational that day and threatened to kill her — something that had never happened before.

She also testified she begged officers not to kill Pitts because he was not in his right mind that night.

Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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