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Emotionally charged video evidence presented at teen’s manslaughter trial

By Staff | Jan 19, 2012

The state rested its case Thursday in a Cape Coral teen’s manslaughter trial, but not before showing a video recording of him emotionally recapping for police how his girlfriend was fatally shot in 2010.

Dylan Stanley Wisniewski, 19, is charged with manslaughter with a firearm in the death of Ashlee Swazey, 15. If convicted of the crime, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison. An eight-member jury, including alternates, was picked Wednesday, and the trial began on Thursday.

Following opening statements from the State Attorney’s Office and Assistant Public Defender Maria Pace, the defense began calling witnesses. Jurors heard testimony from first-responders at the scene, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, forensic and crime lab technicians who handled evidence from the scene, and detectives who interviewed Wisniewski after the shooting.

On Sept. 3, 2010, officers responded to a shooting at 2125 S.E. Sixth Lane. Wisniewski stated that “he was ‘messing’ with a gun” and that his girlfriend had been hurt, according to a police report. Swazey was found lying on the floor in a bedroom with a gunshot wound to the head. She was pronounced dead.

Wisniewski told police that he and Swazey were in his room when he removed a .22-caliber rifle from a gun rack above his closet. He pointed the gun in her direction, first at her feet and then at her shoulder area. Swazey then allegedly walked up to the end of the gun and put her mouth close to the barrel.

Wisniewski said he pulled the trigger, not realizing the gun was loaded, and Swazey fell to the floor.

Some of the more emotional testimony witnessed Thursday was the playing of the 911 tape and video recordings of Wisniewski being questioned at the scene and then back at Cape police headquarters.

During the 911 call, Wisniewski explains that his girlfriend is lying on the floor bleeding and that she was shot in the face. The 911 operator instructs him to start CPR on Swazey, and he states that there is blood in her mouth. Wisniewski can be heard on the recording attempting to breathe air into Swayze’s mouth.

First-responders arrive on scene and take over. A Cape police officer, Cape EMT and Lee County EMT testified Thursday as to what they witnessed when they arrived and what occurred next. The Cape EMT reported that he picked up the rifle and cleared the chamber because he noted the safety was not on.

He told the jurors that he was concerned the firearm might go off if bumped, that it was not safe.

The video recordings were played while the state had Cape Sgt. Steve Barnes and then Detective Erica Cunningham on the stand. The first footage showed Barnes speaking with Wisniewski while he was in the back of a police cruiser. He gives Barnes the first version of what occurred that led to the shooting.

Prior to Barnes’ appearance, Wisniewski sobs and cries out loud, occasionally mumbling to himself.

He tells Barnes that he and Swayze walked into his bedroom together. He retrieved the gun from the gun rack on his wall to show it off, and then Swayze walked up to the gun and opened her mouth.

“I didn’t think there was ammo in it,” Wisniewski states in the video, adding that he did not try or was not trying to pull the trigger.

Upon questioning, he tells Barnes that they were not arguing prior to the shooting.

The video at the police headquarters showed Barnes and Cunningham conducting a more in-depth interview with Wisniewski to get his official statement. Visually distraught throughout the process, he cries in intervals. He says he got the gun about a year before and used it last a couple months prior.

“I pulled the trigger, I think,” he tells the police. “I never loaded it. I thought it was unloaded.”

Later in the questioning, Wisniewski adds that he aimed the rifle at Swayze’s feet after taking it off the rack. He states that he then raised the gun, focusing over her shoulder, at which point she walked over.

He tells police that she put the gun in her mouth without saying anything.

After police conclude the interview and leave the room, the video records Wisniewski get up and walk over to a corner of the room, where he collapses on the floor. He cries, occasionally asking, “Why?” and “What happened?” During the defense’s cross-examination, the jury learned he got sick in a bathroom.

A forensic technician with the Cape police testified that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined the muzzle of the rifle contained partial DNA from Swayze. No fingerprints of value could be obtained from the firearm, and agreed under cross-examination by the defense that it could have been due to the EMT and herself handling the gun and how it was transported in two “unsecured” bags.

The technician noted, however, that she did not think the bags compromised any evidence.

The medical examiner testified that the cause of death was an internal gunshot wound to the head and neck, that the entry wound was less than a half-inch and that the only other injury to the body was from a terminal fall and it was to the head. Based on evidence, the barrel of the gun was close to the tongue.

She told the jury that the wound was in a place that likely would cause Swayze to die immediately.

As FDLE crime lab technician testified on the stand to how the rifle works and confirmed that her tests determined that the firearm worked properly when test fired. She also explained that applying pressure to the trigger of a properly working gun to fire it, but that the pressure does not have to be intentional.

Asked by the state why she checked the rifle at the witness stand prior to handling it and showing it to the jury, she said, “We’re trained to test every single firearm to make sure they’re not loaded.”

Swazey’s father briefly took the stand at one point, quickly identifying his daughter by a photograph then confirming her age for prosecutors before breaking down into tears and returning to his seat.

Both the Swazey family and the Wisniewski family declined comment following the day’s proceedings.

The trial will continue today at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 8A at the Lee County Justice Center in downtown Fort Myers. Lee County Circuit Judge John W. Dommerich is presiding over the proceedings.