I started out as a prosecuting attorney 11 years ago and I gained a lot of experience working in the courtroom everyday and trying cases frequently. I also made a lot of relationships with those working in the local courts during that time. Having those contacts can help in getting matters resolved. It is often the case in criminal defense practice that the question is not whether the client is guilty but what exactly they are guilty of and what should be the punishment. I find most often that there are two sides to every story and that there are very few truly evil people. Often, the simple function of both sides listening to one another can facilitate a fair settlment of what was previously a misunderstood and/or contentious situation.
Other cases, there is just no agreement that can be reached for one reason or another. I also made a point to go and watch the good trial lawyers during my first few years. I found a number of consistencies. The sharp trial lawyer is prepared and he is genuine. He is not putting on a show, he believes in his case. This is now the way I approach it. I have now tried around 15 cases to jury verdict and have been a part of some very good results. Trials are hard stressful work but once it kicks off, I feel my skill set works well in the courtroom. I have always had a pretty good technical understanding of court evidence rules and this can be an advantage at trial. I also feel like being genuine and "plain speaking" goes a long way when arguing cases to a jury. I am from this local area and more times than not, I know someone on the jury panel. For example, I am not going to start using words I wouldn't use if I was talking out on the sidewalk. I have seen lawyers do just that type of thing in an effort to impress with their intelligence. That is not my goal, I don't want the jury thinking about me. I am trying to help my client go home to his or her family as soon as possible.
Commonwealth Atty Bill Markwell: "She makes several statements: 'I shot him.' Then, 'I didn't cock the gun or do anything. I don't know how the gun went off.' Then, 'I thought he was a burglar,' " Markwell said. "She also says Andrew came into the house and set off the burglar alarm so then the alarm was shut off. Amber also says she was asleep and awakened by the burglar alarm" which led to her firing the gun, striking Zac.
Markwell said at the end of the evidence phase, "We believe you will come to the inescapable conclusion that Amber Sullivan took Zac's gun in adequate light, pulled the trigger, shot him in the side of the head and killed him."
However, Defense Attorney Brian Ousley said the shooting was a tragic accident.
"Amber Sullivan has looked forward to this day because it's her opportunity to tell someone impartial about what happened on the night of June 6 and the early morning of June 7," he said.
"Amber and Zac were high school sweethearts. They'd been married 11 years. Amber was a stay-at-home mom, and Zac financially supported the family through an inheritance. Zac had serious issues," Ousley said. "The night this occurred he was so intoxicated that he was trying to urinate and fell backward into the bathtub onto his back." A video of the incident taken with a phone, shows him in the tub with the leg monitor he was wearing "plainly visible," Ousley said.
"He was appallingly cursing his children. Zac had reputation of domestic violence. Amber is not without problems of her own," he said. "She had been violently attacked in the same house no more than a year before this happened. She was strangled, had a broken nose and was treated at a hospital," Ousley said. "She was on prescription medication for pain, anxiety and depression. They had a peculiar habit of video taping their lives. They'd video going through a drive-through window. They'd video their own fights. There's more than 200 videos on one of their phones. You will see from videos she is trying her best to deal with a belligerent Zac the night of the shooting. She taped him to show it to him later when he was sober so that he'd change his ways."
Ousley said Amber Sullivan did send a Facebook message to Zac's friend, asking him not to come because the family was going to bed.
According to her statements, "She says she's asleep and hears the alarm go off unexpectedly," Ousley told the jury. "She reacts and gets Zac's gun. Amber goes out to encounter whatever set the alarm off. The gun has no safety just a trigger. While she's going out the bedroom door, the gun goes off and she drops the gun," Ousley said. "She didn't chamber a round on this gun. When it went off she was frightened and dropped it. She then sees a shadow of Zac laying on the stairs. She thinks he's having a seizure and runs to him. She says it doesn't take long to determine what happened."
"When officers arrive, Amber is on the stairs begging for anyone to save him," Ousley said.
"After that Amber acted like any innocent person would. She talked to everyone who would listen about what happened. She didn't clam up. She consented to a search of her blood and urine. She went to the police department and stayed three or four hours and talked about one of the hardest things that has ever happened."
"You will find her statements are consistent — consistent with each other but also with someone who has just been through the worst tragedy of her life. These statements are taken and presumed to be the worst. They are twisted and manipulated in a way in an attempt to convict Ms. Sullivan," Ousley said.
In the end, he said, "Two children have lost their father but the evidence doesn't warrant them losing their mother also."
The trial will resume Wednesday morning in Henderson Circuit Court.