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Aaron Schmidt looks at a message from his attorney Penelope Donkar during the third day of his trial for the murder of Alana Calahan.

LIVE UPDATES: Teen on tape admits shooting neighbor

Follow @ValerieRowell for live updates #AaronSchmidt

Posted: February 8, 2012 - 10:43am  |  Updated: February 8, 2012 - 5:42pm
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Aaron Schmidt and his defense attorney, Penelope Donkar, watch the video of his interview with Columbia County Sheriff's Office investigators during Day 3 of his murder trial.  Valerie Rowell
Valerie Rowell
Aaron Schmidt and his defense attorney, Penelope Donkar, watch the video of his interview with Columbia County Sheriff's Office investigators during Day 3 of his murder trial.

Twitter @ValerieRowell

The defense rested Wednesday afternoon in the murder trial of Aaron Schmidt without calling any witnesses, shortly after the judge rejected a motion for a directed motion of acquittal.

Judge Michael Annis released the jury for the day. Day 4 of the trial will reconvene Thursday morning with closing arguments.

Earlier in the day Wednesday, a videotaped interview of Schmidt reached a dramatic stage when he admitted shooting Alana Calahan in the back of the head as she sat at her computer.

The prosecution of Schmidt, the 15-year-old Harlem teen accused in the Jan. 31, 2011, shooting death of his 14-year-old neighbor, began with testimony from another investigator, who set the stage for jurors to begin listening to Schmidt's taped interview.

Superior Court Judge Michael Annis brought jurors into the courtoom shortly after 9 a.m. for Day 3 of the case, in which Schmidt faces charges of murder, theft by taking and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Brian Jones, a Columbia County Sheriff's Office investigator, was first on the stand for prosecutors, and described Schmidt's initial story of seeing an intruder fleeing Calahan's home, and talked about how the story changed the more Schmidt talked.

When Schmidt again changed his version of events and admitted having a gun during the incident, Jones said, Schmidt became a suspect and was then read his Miranda rights.

Jurors began shortly before 10 a.m. viewing the videotaped interview of Schmidt.

In the video, Schmidt first told investigators that he interrupted a black-clad burglar and chased him from the home. His details of the event continued changing, however. He also drew a map for investigators of the layout of the property, including trails in the woods behind the Calahan home.

Schmidt told investigators he took off his shoes before entering the home and finding blood, an overturned chair and drag marks that he followed into the woods where he found Alana's body.

He then changed the story, said he put on his shoes, found Alana's sister and followed her to the body.

When challenged on the details of his story, Schmidt started crying and said he was afraid the intruder would come back for him if he talked.

Under more aggressive questioning, Schmidt eventually admitted holding the 9mm handgun belonging to Alana's father when the gun "went off" in his hand, the bullet striking Alana in the back of the head.

Schmidt claimed Alana wanted to know how to use the gun, and that it accidentally fired when he grabbed it from her. At another point, he said he'd pulled back the hammer on the gun, and that it went off when he tried to uncock it.

On the video, Schmidt stood to show investigators how he was positioned when Alana was shot. He described her falling over in her chair, and said he checked and she wasn't breathing. "I picked her up by her sleeves and just dragged her out," he told investigators, explaining that he took her body out of the home and into the woods.

While Schmidt continued to maintain the shooting was accidental, he admitted during the interview that he had lied about chasing away an intruder.

The trial has recessed for lunch until 2:30 p.m. Just one more prosecution witness is scheduled, after which the defense will begin to lay out its case to jurors.

Tuesday

Evidence presented in the case Tuesday included video footage of the crime scene and images from Calahan's autopsy.

Before the jury was brought into the courtroom, Superior Court Judge Michael Annis reviewed the evidence and excluded some of the photos after objections from the defense that the photos are "gruesome" and don't show Calahan's body the way she was found.

The prosecution's first witness Tuesday was Rachel Huffman, the Columbia County 911 dispatcher who received the frantic call the day of Calahan's death from her sister.

Huffman's testimony was followed by Columbia County Sheriff's Office crime scene technician Sgt. Ken Summers, who showed a video of the room inside the home where Calahan was shot, the trail where she was dragged from the home and the bloody spot in the woods where investigators say Schmidt left her body.

Summers testified that Calahan was uploading photos to her Facebook page when she was shot from behind, and described for jurors the path of the bullet as it passed through her skull, struck her jawbone and landed on the desk by the computer mouse.

The bullet was recovered from the crime scene, and a shell casing was found in a child's project in the dining room of the home, Summers said. A GBI firearms analyst later testified that the bullet fragments and shell casing matched the gun found in the woods behind the Calahan home 12 hours later, partially buried under leaves, by a police tracking dog.

Crime scene technician Tim Burnley also testified, drawing objections from the defense at some of the grisly crime scene photos showing Calahan's body.

Assistant District Attorney Natalie Paine also called to the stand witnesses who know Schmidt personally: Thomas Pittman, Schmidt's cousin and a mutual friend of the Calahan's, and Diane Chitty, Schmidt's sister who has had custody of him since he was 5 years old.

Pittman testified that Schmidt has "anger issues," while Chitty said Schmidt had been sexually abused as a child.

Schmidt's father was not in the picture because he's currently serving time in prison on a rape conviction, Chitty told the court.

Monday

As the trial began Monday afternoon, prosecutors portrayed Schmidt as a cold-blooded killer with an ever-shifting story, while his defense attorney said he should be guilty only of manslaughter in Calahan's death.

Opening statements in Schmidt's trial Monday gave way to witness testimony that included Calahan's parents.

Calahan was shot in the back of the head with a gun belonging to her father. Schmidt, a family friend, had been ordered to stay away from the home after Calahan had found him inside when she came home from school, according to tearful testimony from her mother, BettyJo Calahan.

Prior to that incident, she said, Schmidt was treated like a member of the family - often having meals and taking trips with them.

Paine and Schmidt’s defense attorney Penelope Donkar said they expect testimony and closing arguments to continue into Thursday. Then, the jury of seven women and eight men will begin their deliberations.

Several jurors were excused during questioning, including one who knows the Calahans and two who said they believe the case should be tried in Juvenile Court because of Schmidt’s age.

Authorities allege that Schmidt, 14 at the time, shot the Harlem Middle School eighth-grader as she sat at a computer inside her family dining room. Alana was dragged outside, where Schmidt initially claimed he saw an intruder on the property.

After changing his story several times, Schmidt eventually said he was fumbling with the 9-mm handgun belonging to Alana’s father when it went off, striking Alana as she sat at the computer in the dining room.

Schmidt was arrested later that night.

Authorities found the gun in nearby woods. They also found the gun case and a box of ammunition under a bathroom sink off Schmidt’s bedroom at his home.

The gun’s owner’s manual was found in his dresser drawer, and several items from the Calahan home, including a digital camera and MP3 player, were found in his bedroom.

Schmidt pled not guilty to the charges in May.

The case has attracted national media attention, with CNN’s In Session setting up cameras and recording equipment inside the courtroom for pool coverage of the case.

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