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Gathers murder trial under way in New London

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published June 25. 2012 5:00PM   Updated June 26. 2012 12:44AM
Aaron Flaum/Norwich Bulletin pool photo
Bruce Gathers listens to testimony during the first day of his trial at New London Superior Court Monday afternoon. Gathers is on trial for the 2006 shooting death of Sean Hill in Norwich.

Shooting victim Sean Hill’s parents, Richard and Virginia Hill, and his two older brothers learned the details of the 19-year-old’s last minutes of life as the trial of his accused killer got under way Monday before a 12-member jury in New London Superior Court.

Bruce R. Gathers, 32, a native of New London, is accused of fatally shooting Hill on June 3, 2006, at the intersection of Lake Street and Boswell Avenue. Gathers has pleaded not guilty and opted for a trial rather than accept a plea offer involving a 15-year prison sentence. He is charged with murder and criminal use of a firearm.

The victim’s family intends to watch the entire trial, though they looked stricken Monday as witnesses detailed Hill’s death. Mrs. Hill, comforted by her sister during the afternoon recess, admitted it had been a difficult day.

Gathers had changed out of his prison garb into tan slacks and a white dress shirt but remained shackled at the ankles as he sat at the defense table with attorney Michael A. Fitzpatrick. He appeared relaxed and attentive.

American Ambulance paramedic Stephen Varga testified that he and his partner were called to a reported gunshot wound at 12:16 a.m. and arrived to find Hill lying on his back.

About 15 minutes later, when the ambulance arrived at The William W. Backus Hospital, Hill’s heart rate had slowed, an indication that “he was no longer compensating for his injuries,” Varga testified.

Emergency room Dr. Robert Sidman told of the lifesaving measures taken at the hospital, before declaring him dead shortly before 1 a.m.

Norwich police dispatcher Laura Zellner, then working as a police officer, described the chaos of the hospital as the staff attempted to resuscitate Hill. She collected evidence from the hospital, including Hill’s socks, shoes, pants and blood-stained long-sleeved white T-shirt.

Detective Richard Bedard from the state police Eastern District Major Crime Squad, now retired, narrated the video he had taken at the crime scene as the squad processed the scene for city police. The detectives recovered a spent Winchester .380 automatic shell casing nearby, according to Bedard.

Gathers and his co-defendant, Gregory “Biscuit” Smith, pleaded guilty in 2008 to robbing a man at the scene just moments before Hill was shot and killed. Police long considered Gathers and Smith suspects in the shooting, but did not charge them until 2010, when they said key witnesses came forward with new information.

The trial resumes today.

k.florin@theday.com

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