Riggs’ Death Described : Sagon Penn Jury Watches Parade of Photographs

Times Staff Writer

Like sideline spectators at a tennis match, jurors in the Sagon Penn murder trial leaned forward in their seats, swiveled their necks and followed with their eyes as a series of exhibits was paraded past them Thursday.

Numerous photographs depicting injuries to slain Police Agent Thomas Riggs and others were admitted into evidence, as were trousers, boots and gun belts.

Defense attorney Milton Silverman walked the pieces of evidence by jurors Friday as coroner’s pathologist David Katsuyama--Thursday’s only witness--recited a litany of medical conclusions and opinions regarding them.


Katsuyama, a frequent witness in homicide cases, spent as much time Thursday discussing injuries to the survivors of the shootings as he did talking about the bullet wounds to Riggs, who died in the violent confrontation with Penn last March 31.

Basing his opinion on a review of photographs, Katsuyama testified under questioning by Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter that wounds on Penn’s forearm and shoulder did not appear to be as severe as the type that would normally be caused when an unarmed person lying on the ground was defending himself from an attack with a police baton.

But under cross-examination, Katsuyama said a karate brown belt such as the 24-year-old defendant might have a different manner of deflecting the blows than people not schooled in martial arts.

“I am not knowledgeable in martial arts techniques,” the doctor conceded.

Silverman said Katsuyama, who performed the autopsy on Riggs, was a mere “prisoner of photographs” in forming opinions regarding injuries to Jacobs and to Penn. Still, the attorneys continuously asked for the doctor’s opinions during hours of tedious testimony Thursday.

Penn is on trial for murder in the shooting death of Riggs, 27, and for attempted murder for wounding Officer Donovan Jacobs, 29, and Sara Pina-Ruiz, a civilian who was with Riggs that night under the police ride-along program.

The trial, which began last month, has heightened racial tensions in San Diego and damaged police relations with the black community, partly because the incident began when Jacobs mistook Penn for a street gang member and, according to witnesses, hurled racial insults at him before and during the confrontation.


Bouncing theories off Katsuyama, attorneys tried to score points Thursday in re-creating the incident.

Katsuyama testified that the fatal wound to Riggs, a bullet to his abdomen that pierced his aorta and backbone, was the last of three gunshot wounds to strike the officer.

At different times, both Silverman and Carpenter sprawled on the floor of the courtroom to demonstrate the manner in which Penn wrestled Jacobs’ gun away after the officer threw him to the ground in an attempt to arrest him.

Besides opinions on the manner in which Penn was struck with Jacobs’ police baton, and the the severity of his injuries, key points in Katsuyama’s testimony Friday included:

- That the fatal wound to Riggs, most likely the third shot fired at him, “very likely would have caused Mr. Riggs to collapse” almost immediately. The bruises on his body appeared to have occurred in the fall, but he was already dead or very near it.

- That Jacobs was probably not crushed by tires when Penn got into his patrol car to drive away, but that the car’s undercarriage struck and severely compounded the wounded officer’s injuries when Penn ran over him.


- That photographs taken of Penn in his jail cell two days after the incident show injuries that were not apparent in snapshots taken by police a few hours after the incident. Penn apparently suffered at least one blow to the head that caused “at least a headache.” Depending on its force, a similar blow could cause a skull fracture, paralysis or even death, Katsuyama testified.

Silverman concluded his cross-examination of Katsuyama Thursday, but Carpenter is expected to question him again when the trial resumes Monday.

Also expected to testify for the prosecution Monday is David Parker, a former police investigator who is now a private traffic safety investigator.