Medical examiner, bar owner testify in Gathers case

The mother of homicide victim Sean R. Hill chose to stay out of the courtroom Friday when Dr. Malka Shah testified about the autopsy of her 19-year-old son.

Bruce R. Gathers, 32, is on trial in New London Superior Court for allegedly shooting Hill on June 3, 2006, at Lake Street and Boswell Avenue in Norwich.

Prosecutor Stephen M. Carney called on Shah to describe the case and show photos of the deceased on the projector.

"I don't need that visual," Virginia Hill said in the hallway.

But Hill's father, Richard, and his two brothers saw the pictures and listened as Shah described how a single, flat-nosed, copper-jacketed bullet had entered Hill's upper abdomen, passed through his kidney, struck a large artery and lodged in his rectum. Shah estimated that Hill could have been alive for two to seven minutes after he was shot. She said he died ultimately of a gunshot wound to the abdomen and that his death was a homicide.

Also testifying Friday was Margaret "Maggie" Oddo, one-time owner of Rumor's Bar at 88 Boswell Ave., where she said Gathers was a regular. The state Department of Correction intercepted a letter Gathers wrote to Oddo from prison in October 2007. Gathers claimed in the letter that he had been in the bar when the shooting occurred and had asked Oddo to "ask around" to see whether anybody remembered him being there.

Oddo testified that she never received the letter and that she didn't even known Gathers' real name. She said she knew him only by his street name — "Man Man" — and did not have a close relationship with him.

"In the letter, it reflects like he knows me," Oddo testified. She did, however, remember that Gathers was in the bar on the night of June 2, 2006, at around 9 or 9:30 p.m., when the DJ started to play. Hill was killed around midnight.

Gathers was a regular customer who had once been kicked out of the bar after an altercation with her son, Oddo said. She said he had been allowed to return after promising he would not drink hard liquor, but that she always kept an eye on him.

On Thursday, the court heard that Bruce Gathers didn't show up for his dinner date on June 2, 2006, but appeared several hours later, anxious and excited, according to the woman who had cooked for him at her home in Norwich that night.

He admitted he was involved in a shooting and went into the bathroom and cut his hair, Jocelyn Williams said on the witness stand Thursday. She said she asked Gathers to leave, but he ended up staying the night. She dropped him off in New London the next morning.

Williams, 30, testified on the fourth day of the murder trial that Gathers told her he had been involved in a robbery and shooting.

Gathers is accused of shooting Sean Hill after robbing one of Hill's associates moments earlier.

Williams said that when Gathers did not show up for dinner as planned that Friday night, she went to visit a friend in Willimantic. She was driving home at about 2 or 3 a.m. when Gathers called her cellphone and asked her to pick him up near Norwich Free Academy. They went to her house on Donohue Drive, where Gathers admitted he had been involved in an incident.

"He said he was at the bar," Williams said. "Him and his friend was going to buy some weed from these kids and they ended up robbing these kids, and he got in a tussle and the gun went off."

Gathers and Gregory "Biscuit" Smith have pleaded guilty to robbing Justin Smith in the hallway of 64 Boswell Ave. that night, but have denied involvement in Hill's death. Hill had gone to the downtown neighborhood that night with Justin Smith and three others.

Williams' version of the shooting would appear to match that of Justin Smith, who said that Gathers chased him from the Boswell Street apartment and shot Hill moments later after the two were involved in a tussle.

Williams said she didn't go to police with the information because she saw in the paper that Gathers had been charged with the robbery and "assumed it was over and done with." She told members of the Southeastern Connecticut Cold Case Unit her story when they interviewed her in 2010.

During cross examination, she admitted that she initially had told police that Gathers came directly to her house. She said that after thinking about it, she remembered she had picked him up.

Also testifying Thursday was a DNA expert who said that Gathers' DNA was on the sweatshirt of robbery victim Justin Smith. His DNA was not found on Hill's clothing.

The trial resumes Monday, when the state is expected to rest its case.

k.florin@theday.com

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