A former sergeant in the Georgia National Guard said he does not remember shooting and killing an off-duty police officer outside a Griffin Waffle House almost three years ago, but he doesn't doubt that he did it.
Michael Bowman — the first defense witness called in his death penalty trial — is claiming post traumatic stress disorder from three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan caused him to react as if he were being attacked by the enemy when he allegedly shot and killed officer Kevin Jordan.
“I just remember him telling us to leave, but I don’t remember nothing else,” Bowman, speaking so softly that at times it was hard to hear him, told a jury in LaGrange where the death penalty trial was moved because of too much local news coverage of the shooting.
Bowman said his only memory of early-morning events on May 31, 2014, was the impact of the bullets fired by the officer’s brother, who happened to be there when Jordan was killed.
“It was like I was hit in the back with a ball bat,” Bowman said.
The death penalty trial began with opening statements Tuesday and prosecutors concluded their case Thursday afternoon. Bowman was the first witness called by defense attorneys.
Bowman testified that they began that Friday evening at a local bar, Mama’s Country Showcase, where they danced and shot pool. Bowman said he was not drinking.
He had come armed but left the gun in the car while he was inside the bar. He said he was armed most of the time because he found his hometown changed after his third deployment — more threatening because of crime and an increased prevalence of gangs.
Bowman left Mama’s Country Showcase several hours later after he found his brother, Tyler Taylor, in the bar parking lot passed out and with vomit on his pants leg.
Bowman fetched his gun from the car before leaving with Taylor and Chantell Mixon, his girlfriend, to get something to eat.
But at the Waffle House, Mixon almost immediately created a disturbance, demanding to be served immediately, so they were asked to leave.
Witnesses told police Mixon became even more belligerent as officer Jordan, a 43-year-old father of seven, walked her out. In the parking lot, Bowman allegedly shot Jordan five times in the back as he tried to arrest Mixon.
Bowman’s attorney spent most of the three hours of Bowman’s testimony on his service with the Georgia National Guard. But the 32-year-old defendant also talked about the bad turns in his life after he was honorably discharged as a decorated sergeant in 2010.
Bowman said his missions in Iraq and Afghanistan included clearing roads of explosives, shooting to disable any vehicles that tried to follow their convoys, driving supply trucks to various outposts and providing protection to a colonel.
He was injured in an explosion on a road.
Bowman’s testimony was monitored by a military attorney, who intervened if questions touched on sensitive topics.
Once Bowman returned to Georgia after his final deployment and took a job driving a truck, he suffered memories of some of the hundreds of combat missions, Bowman testified.
“I was having big problems with guard rails, trash and people driving slow,” he said.
In the war zones, improvised explosive devices were often hidden on guard rails or under trash along the roads, Bowman explained. The practice was to drive 70 to 80 mph unless they were clearing roads of IEDs, and that is why slow drivers unnerved him, Bowman said.
Soon after his service was over, Bowman said, he started having nightmares. The dreams, still coming several times a week, were always the same, he said.
Each time, the “disturbing” dream started in a war zone and Bowman struggled to pull a malfunctioning trigger on his rifle. Then the scene would change to his home where someone was trying to break down his front door or in a mountain setting where someone was hiding behind a rock; the trigger didn’t work in those settings either, Bowman said.
Bowman said each time he awoke from the dream, he would grab the pistol he kept on the nightstand or under his pillow and check the front door for evidence of an intruder. Then he would be awake until time to go to work.
He said, however, that he only asked the Veterans Administration for help with the ringing in his ears that started after he was hurt in an explosion and not for his troubled dreams.
Spalding County District Attorney Ben Coker, during cross-examination, pointed out that in each of the three assessments of his health after his deployment, Bowman claimed he was healthy and denied having any problems.
He also asked Bowman about the side effects of steroids he injected until about 12 weeks before Jordan was killed.
Did he know that steroids could cause sleeplessness, Coker asked.
Did he know steroids cause feelings of irritation, the district attorney asked.
Did he know that one of the steroids he took was not suitable for human use, Coker wanted to know.