Drinking, Fighting Preceded Rogers’s Death
TRANSYVANIA COUNTY, N.C. — The trial of 21-year-old Scott Fisher, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the February 2010 death of 16-year-old Transylvania County resident Michael Scott Rogers, began Tuesday in the Henderson County courthouse.
In the two years since Rogers’s death, the events that led up to him being alone and shirtless in the midst of a Henderson County pig field on a cold winter night have remained a mystery.
An autopsy of Rogers showed that he had been drinking the night before he died and that he had also suffered a number of injuries, including abrasions and contusions to his head and face.
During introductory remarks to the jury on Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts said that while there might be moments of high drama and intensity similar to that seen in television and movies, the purpose of the trial was not to entertain but to get to the actual truth in the case so that justice could be served.
Through the first day of the trial, Assistant District Attorney Doug Mundy called eight witnesses to testify. Mundy presented nearly 100 exhibits during the deliberations, many of them showing photos showing Rogers’s lifeless body lying in the field.
In his opening statement, Fisher’s attorney, Mack McKeller, told the jury “this is going to be a sad case.”
McKeller said the jury, including alternates consists of seven men and seven women, would hear testimony about a party where heavy underage drinking, illicit drug use and fights occurred.
“You’re going to hear stories about 16-year-old kids starting fights for no reason other than they are 16 years old and bullet proof,” he said. “But just because it makes you sad doesn’t mean you have to find (my client) guilty.”
The first witness to take the stand was Rogers’s mother, Barbara Leonard.
Leonard was at times tearful as she recalled the events that occurred on Feb. 20, 2010, the night before her son was found dead in the field near the Transylvania and Henderson county line.
She testified that her son had called her at 10:52 p.m. and asked to speak to his stepfather. She said her son’s speech was not as it usually was as he told her husband that he didn't know where he was and needed help.
When Rogers’s stepfather, Robert Leonard, took the stand he testified that they were so worried about Rogers after the phone calls that they called 911 before speeding to a church, hopeful that they would find him. The drive, which normally took about 30 minutes, took only 11 to 12 minutes that night, he said.
In cross examination, McKeller asked Leonard a series of questions about his stepson’s history of drug use. At one point, Mundy objected to McKeller’s line of questioning. Letts ruled that the drug use in the week preceding Rogers’s death was relevant and that it would be admissable.
McKeller asked Leonard if he was concerned about his stepson because of his drug use.
“I was concerned when I heard Michael say, ‘Leave me the expletive alone,’ with commotion in the background,” Leonard testified.
He recalled the first phone call lasted only long enough to get a general description of where Rogers was from another man who was with him at the time.
Leonard said the person on the phone agreed to meet them at the church on Blantyre Road. During Rogers’s mother’s testimony about the call, she recalled hearing other people in the background and what she described as a scuffle before the phone was disconnected. When her son called back minutes later he was “utterly upset,” she said.
That was the last time she ever spoke to him.
The couple drove to the church where they waited for Rogers to arrive, but he never did.
With the help of Transylvania County sheriff's deputies, the Leonards searched the surrounding area but found no sign of Rogers.
Robert Leonard recalled going door to door in the neighborhood near the church searching for anyone who might know where Rogers was located. At 3:15 a.m. in temperatures described as “very cold,” the Leonards went home.
Leonard said he was hopeful that night that things would be OK, but a phone call from his wife early the next morning changed all of that, he said.
When he arrived back at the scene of the search shortly after daybreak he said there was a large number of people searching for Rogers.
“There were helicopters in the air. There were firetrucks blocking the road. There were four wheelers with rescue personnel. There were people everywhere,” he said.
Just before 11 a.m. on Feb. 21, 2010, nearly 12 hours after the last phone call from their son, his body was spotted in the field roughly 100 yards from the Blantyre River Access.
Lt. Kevin Holden, Deputy Chris Hawkins and Deputy Terrell Scruggs with the Transylvania County Sheriff's Office testified that they were involved in the search for Rogers and the investigation into what happened that night.
Holden said he was on duty and processing someone into the Transylvania County jail when he heard radio chatter about Rogers.
He went to the 911 dispatch center after leaving the jail and listened to a 911 call placed by Rogers.
Holden described Rogers’s voice as “gurgling” as he told dispatchers he was hurt and didn’t know where he was located.
At that point, Holden said he believed Rogers was in danger and in need of urgent medical care.
Holden said he formulated an opinion at that point that Rogers would die unless he received medical attention.
He testified that he went directly to the area and began attempting to locate Rogers. Holden, working with Deputy Hawkins, went to the home of Sean Fisher, Scott Fisher’s father. They believed a party had taken place earlier that night.
Holden said when they arrived there was no one there and all of the lights at the residence were off.
The officers investigated the premises and found a trail of blood drops and a discarded shirt in the driveway.
Holden said that based on the evidence at the scene and the 911 call, he made a decision to enter the house through an unlocked door to see if Rogers or anyone else was in the residence in need of medical assistance. Inside, Holden said he located two bloody towels in the laundry room.
When asked about what the conditions outside were like that night, Holden testified that it was “very cold.”
Holden and Hawkins then located a neighbor who was a relative of Sean Fisher and who had witnessed the party earlier in the evening. Holden advised the neighbor to call Sean Fisher and ask him to contact his son to find out the whereabouts of Rogers.
When Holden eventually spoke with Sean Fisher, he said Rogers had been with his son, but that Rogers had gotten out of the vehicle at the end of the driveway and had begun walking.
Based on the new information, Holden said he began a K-9 search for Rogers in the vicinity of the driveway. When the dog was unable to track a human scent, the officers shifted their focus to locating a silver Volkswagon Passat they believed could be linked to Rogers’s whereabouts.
Around 3:15 a.m ., Hawkins located the vehicle on King Street in Brevard. Hawkins noted the vehicle had multiple blood spots on it.
In addition to the numerous blood spots, the vehicle also had a broken taillight lens on the passenger’s side.
Hawkins testified that he went to nearby apartments and located the owner of the vehicle. Scott Fisher and another young man were also at the residence.
Holden said that when he arrived, Fisher and the other man at the residence told him that they needed to discuss something with the deputies.
According to Holden, Fisher and the other man told him that Fisher had been driving the car that night and that the other man had gotten into a fight with Rogers. Holden recalled the other man, who was identified only as “Thomas,” saying that Fisher got out of the car at the intersection of U.S. 64 and King Road. The last time they saw him he was walking toward the bridge over the French Broad River, Holden recalled the man saying.
At 4:10 a.m ., Hawkins and Holden returned to the search area and, as a result of information from a N.C. Highway patrolmen, investigated the Blantyre River Access area. The officers found blood drops in the snow, a shattered tail light lens near a telephone pole at the parking area and an oil spot similar to ones observed both at the Fisher’s home and King Street where the car was located.
At that point, Holden said he requested an aerial search by a helicopter from the Highway Patrol.
At daybreak, the search operation was in full effect, but Rogers was not located. The operation was hindered in part by large, aggressive dogs in the field near the river access that prohibited search personnel from entering the field, which was used to farm pigs.
At 10:55 a.m ., Holden testified that a Little River volunteer firefighter who was assisting in the search approached him and asked if he had binoculars.
Holden said he took out his binoculars, leaned against the telephone pole to brace himself and looked out across the field.
“I saw what appeared to be a white male with jeans, boots and no shirt lying on the ground with no movement,” Holden said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Krista Rickards, a friend of Scott Fisher’s who was at the party, testified.
She recalled the party as a small gathering with around 30 people in attendance.
Rickards said there were no parents or adults at the party, where she played darts and sat on the couch talking and smoking a cigarette. Rickards recalled seeing Rogers at the party and testified that he seemed to be very intoxicated. She said a distressed and upset Rogers told people at the party of his problems, which included being a drug addict at 16 and being sent to two mental institutions.
Rickards also recalled that Scott Fisher appeared to be very upset toward the end of the party, but she did not know why.
After reviewing a statement she made the day after the party, Rickards said she remembered that Fisher was angry because he was having to leave the party to take Rogers to meet his parents at the nearby church.
She said he was angry because he had been drinking and didn’t want to drive.
At some point that night, the individuals at the party got word that law enforcement officers were on their way, so they ran through the woods to the nearby highway where they were picked up by friends.
Rickards said that later that night she called Fisher to ask what happened.
“Scott told me that he took Michael out into the middle of nowhere and beat the **** out of him and left him,” she said.
Brittney Tillison, who was also at the party, testified that she had seen an altercation at the house.
She said she doesn’t remember much, but that individuals there were drinking, smoking marijuana and taking prescription pills. She testified she saw Rogers lying in the kitchen covered in blood while an angry Fisher was being restrained.
Moments later, Fisher broke away from the individual who was holding him back and went over and “stomped” Rogers’s face. Tillison then recalled Fisher saying, “I’m going to go to jail.”
She said that Rogers was going in and out of consciousness and being attended to by someone at the party when she left. The people remaining at the house included Scott Fisher, Rogers, “Thomas” and another young woman.
The trial is expected to continue through the week.