Christopher Strawn, representing himself in his trial for the Oct. 20, 2015 murder of Brandon Cook, began making the case for his defense Tuesday morning. Halfway through the day, he called a key witness to the stand: himself.
“Tell us what you’d like us to know,” Judge Philip Pallenberg said, as Strawn took his seat.
“First and foremost, obviously,” Strawn said, turning to the jury, “I’m innocent.”
Strawn, who is now on trial for the homicide for the second time after a mistrial in February, spent nearly an hour and a half on the stand for his own testimony.
With Strawn nearly complete with his defense, the case could go to the jury as soon as Wednesday morning. Both sides are allowed to give closing arguments Wednesday, and then the decision will be in the hands of the jury.
During much of his testimony Tuesday, Strawn explained his work as a handyman working on the trailer at the Kodzoff Acres Mobile Home Park. He also described his initial meetings with Cook and Tiffany Albertson (now Johnson), who is the sole eyewitness to the murder.
Strawn also said that on the day of Oct. 20, 2015, he worked at Cook’s house, left his truck (which he said was out of gas) outside and walked home with his dog around 9 p.m. He then ate dinner, watched television and went to bed sometime between 10:30 and 11 p.m., he said. The call to 911 came at 10:32 p.m.
“That’s what I did that night,” Strawn said. “That’s what I remember.”
Prior to his testimony, Strawn delivered his opening statement, which he declined to do at the outset of the case as is the norm. In his opening statement, Strawn said he’d attempt to present “evidence of a love triangle gone bad” involving Cook, Albertson and her fiancé Brandon Johnson.
He spoke only briefly to this, saying that he saw Cook touching Albertson in a way that suggested that they might be more than friends, Strawn inferred. Strawn avoided eye contact with anyone for most of his testimony, electing instead to look up toward the tiled courtroom ceiling as he spoke.
Strawn stated multiple times that he knew that he didn’t need to testify, but he felt he needed to speak.
“I feel obligated to sit up here, I did,” Strawn said as he concluded. “I understand what I did and what I’m doing and now you have gotten to hear my side of the story.”
After Strawn’s hour-and-a-half on the stand, Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige’s cross-examination lasted just under two minutes. Paige asked Strawn to confirm his claim that he left Cook’s trailer around 9 p.m. that night and was in bed between 10 and 11 p.m. Strawn confirmed those claims, and then Paige went in another direction.
Paige asked about Strawn’s girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time of Cook’s death. The baby has since been born, Strawn told Paige.
“You have a lot to lose then, don’t you?” Paige posed to Strawn.
Strawn took a moment to respond, and replied that he was aware that his possible sentence could be the rest of his life in prison. Paige asked if Strawn would be able to see his child if he were in prison. He said he’d still be able to.
“You might not get to to raise your child, right?”
“That’s a big deal, isn’t it?” Paige said.
“Yes,” Strawn said.
Prior to his own testimony, Strawn called a former neighbor of Cook’s named Tim Shockley. Shockley gave his account of the night of the shooting, including how he heard and saw a lone woman pass by his home soon after he heard the gunshot (which he originally thought was a bear breaking into a shed or trash can).
At the beginning of the day Tuesday, Strawn made multiple attempts to either ask for a mistrial or a delay in the case. He brought up a photo that ran on the front page of the Empire last week, depicting him walking out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
If jurors were to see this photo, he argued, they would see him in a negative light. In the courtroom, Strawn is wearing a suit and tie. He’s brought in and out of the courtroom in handcuffs, but the jury doesn’t see that.
Strawn asked for a mistrial due to the media coverage, but Pallenberg denied that request.
He also requested that his defense be delayed by a couple days due to two witnesses being out of town or unavailable. Paige responded, saying that Strawn had plenty of time to reach out to witnesses and give them notice of the trial.
Pallenberg concurred, saying that there didn’t seem to be any plan in place to get the witnesses back in town and that the testimony that they were planning on giving didn’t sound like anything that would help Strawn’s case in any major way.
“It’s unclear to me that it would accomplish anything and it’s unclear to me that there’s been any level of diligence,” Pallenberg said. “I realize that the job of representing oneself is an extraordinarily difficult one. I think much of this was the inevitable result of that choice.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.