Xavier Patterson, accused of murdering Meagan Darling, the mother of his children, chose not to testify at his trial Thursday. But Darling’s eldest son, who witnessed the immediate aftermath of his mother’s shooting death, gave his account Thursday of Patterson’s actions that night.
The trial continued Thursday with another warning to the gallery from 211th District Court Judge Brody Shanklin. Before the jury entered the room, Shanklin said he heard of a second incident of words being exchanged between Patterson’s and Darling’s families.
Shanklin stressed the importance that no matter how high the emotions, they can’t speak to themselves or each other about the trial. Doing so in earshot of a juror could cause a mistrial.
The jury went on to hear testimony from Darling’s eldest son, who entered the bedroom where Darling’s body was found shortly after hearing the fatal gunshot. They also heard testimony from forensic experts and viewed autopsy evidence.
Darling’s son testifies
When Darling was shot to death at about 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 10, 2020, her eldest son was 11 years old. Now 14, he took the stand to testify that his mother was feeding his infant brother when she was shot.
Patterson’s account to detectives did not make any mention that the infant was in Darling’s arms or even in the same room when he said the two tussled over his gun. But there were also questions about discrepancies between Darling’s son’s testimony on Thursday compared to his forensic interview the night of her death.
Darling’s son, though he said he was nervous, gave testimony that he had witnessed the toxicity of his mom and Patterson’s relationship on several occasions. The two started dating around the time he was 7 years old.
He testified he would see bruises on his mom’s arms and legs. He said he did not witness any physical altercations between the two, but could hear them arguing out of sight and hear his mom cry out in pain and fear.
On a few occasions, the boy said he witnessed Patterson damage property. He said Patterson once through a rock at the window on a back door when Darling wouldn’t let him in the house. He also said Patterson tried to kick down the door on more than one occasion. The boy said when the two would start fighting, he would try to leave the room.
Darling’s son recalled that his family moved to the 1400 block of Carrigan Lane the day after Christmas in 2019. He said he, his mom, his three younger siblings and Xavier all lived together. The youngest of the children was under a year old at the time.
On the day of Darling’s death, her son said he got home from middle school around 5 p.m. Darling and the other children were also home and Patterson arrived shortly after.
The boy said he and the other children were watching TV in the living room. When Patterson came home, he and Darling started to argue.
He said Patterson seemed frustrated and mad. He said his mom “just seemed normal” and that she was repeatedly telling Patterson to leave and give her his house key. He did not remember if Patterson gave her the key.
The boy said the door to the master bedroom was open and he could hear the two arguing. He testified that his mom came out, picked up his infant brother and made a bottle, then walked back to the bedroom with the baby. Patterson remained in the room as she did that, the boy said, and he didn’t hear any arguing.
Shortly after Darling went into the bedroom, the boy said he heard a loud noise that he later realized was a gunshot. He said he immediately ran to the bedroom and saw blood on the wall and his mom slumped over in the bed with the baby in her arms. Patterson was pacing near the corner of the bed and yelling Darling’s name, the boy said.
Everything started happening fast, he said. The boy testified that he grabbed the baby from his mom’s arms and put the baby and the other two children in Patterson’s car, which was sitting in the driveway at the front of the house. Then, he said he went back inside to figure out what was going on with his mom. He said he wasn’t able to tell how bad the injury was.
The boy said Patterson explained that he and Darling were fighting over the gun, it went off and he was trying to hurt or kill himself. He did not remember what exactly he told Patterson, but said he tried to talk him out of killing himself. He said he saw his mom’s phone was hanging out of her hand.
He told the court he wanted to call 911, but Patterson wouldn’t let him. He said he was grounded at the time, so he didn’t have his own phone, and he didn’t know the passwords to Patterson’s or Darling’s phones.
Patterson told the boy to help pick up his mom and move her to the car, the boy testified. He said he doesn’t remember how they got her off the bed, but as soon as they tried to pick her up, she began shaking and spots appeared on her skin. So, the boy said they left her on the floor.
The boy said Patterson then got a pizza cutter and another item from the kitchen and tried to cut his forearms. He told Patterson to give him his phone and he wouldn’t call 911, he said. The boy said he called his grandma and told her to call 911.
Patterson told detectives that he called 911 and then handed the boy the phone. The phone call included a male voice saying “We have an emergency,” and then the line immediately disconnected. Patterson told detectives initially he wasn’t sure if the boy hung up after handing him the phone. But when asked if he was present when Patterson called 911, the boy said no.
After calling his grandma, the boy said he went back out to the garage near the car. When police arrived, the garage was open to the driveway out front. The boy said Patterson ran outside to see who he was on the phone with.
Patterson took the phone from him and went back in the house. The boy also went back into the house but said he doesn’t remember what he saw when he entered again. After that the boy said other people — first responders and his family members — started to show up to the house.
The boy was interviewed by child forensic interviewers at 11:15 p.m. Jan. 10, less than four hours after the 911 hangup call. He testified Thursday that he was still under stress and wasn’t fully thinking at the time of the interview.
The 11-year-old’s forensic interview
The boy was taken to the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County that night to speak with forensic interviewer Elines Negron. Negron testified Thursday that children process things differently than adults and it takes specialized training to interview a child who has witnessed a crime.
Negron said the boy’s demeanor was all over the place. Sometimes he would be calm and then other times he would be in shock. He often had his head down or his head in his hands.
She said there are advantages and disadvantages to interviewing a child immediately after the incident. It can be useful for the incident to be fresh on their mind, Negron said, but sometimes the child hasn’t fully processed the event.
She said it’s not uncommon for children to not remember every detail or to remember more details later on.
Defense attorney Derek Adame pointed out discrepancies in the 2020 interview and the testimony the boy gave Thursday. Mainly, Adame pointed out that the boy never mentioned during his forensic interview that he found Darling with the baby in her arms. Adame also said that during the initial interview, the boy claimed that Patterson entered the living room, kissed the baby and the second youngest child goodbye, then entered the bedroom and then the gunshot was heard.
The forensic interview was not played for the jury. But Negron said she recalled the boy saying these things during the interview.
When Adame asked the boy about statements he made during the interview, he testified he could not recall several of them, such as him saying his mom was trying to take the gun away from Patterson.
State prosecutor Michael Graves asked the boy Thursday if the information the boy told Negron about the incident, like his mom “shooting herself,” came from Patterson. Yes, the boy testified.
DNA testing and gunshot residue
The jury also heard more testimony from a senior forensic analyst, Farah Plopper, who partially testified Wednesday. The findings of her DNA analysis report were admitted into court as evidence.
When comparing DNA on evidence at the scene to the DNA of Patterson and Darling, some results were inconclusive while others were more precise.
A swab from the grip of the gun came back with a mixed partial DNA profile of at least two major contributing individuals and one lower contributing individual. The DNA data was too complex and was inconclusive.
One swab on the slide of the gun and one on the trigger were also inconclusive. A different swab of the side with possible blood present, did test presumptive positive for blood and hemoglobin. This swab came back with one major male contributor and at least one minor contributor.
Patterson could not be excluded as the contributor, meaning his DNA was compared to a population database and found to have 1 in several hundred sextillion odds of matching another individual. A sextillion is a digit followed by 21 zeros. The minor contributor was inconclusive.
Darling could not be excluded as a contributor for swabs of blood on the mattress, bed frame and wall. And Patterson could not be excluded as a contributor for blood swabbed on the bathroom and closet door frame.
Because the defense is arguing Darling slapped the gun out of Patterson’s hand, causing it to fire, defense attorney Caroline Simone asked Plopper if just because someone touches something, that doesn’t necessarily mean their DNA will transfer in a way that analysts can retrieve. That was correct, Plopper said.
Juan Rojas, a forensic trace evidence scientist for the Texas Department of Public Safety, also testified on gunshot residue. He said GSR occurs when a person fires a weapon, is near where a weapon was fired or touches a surface with residue already on it.
A GSR kit was used to test Patterson’s right and left hands. The findings were consistent with Patterson having fired a gun, been in the immediate proximity of a fired gun or having touched something with GSR on it. There was no mention of Darling’s body being tested for GSR.
Stacy Murthy, a medical examiner for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office, also testified Thursday. She performed Darling’s autopsy on Jan. 12, 2020, about two days after Darling’s death.
Murthy reported that Darling’s autopsy was consistent with being shot at medium range, rather than close range. At medium range, the barrel of the gun is 1 to 4 feet from the point of the body that the bullet enters. Close range is less than 1 foot.
Murthy explained that in close range there would be soot, or burned gunpowder, on the surface of the skin. Soot indicated a shooting at close range. No soot was reported on Darling’s body in the autopsy. She did have stippling, or unburned gunpowder that embeds into the skin, on her face. No soot but stippling present indicates medium range.
Murthy also testified that if the gun had been smacked in an upward motion as Patterson described, she would not expect the bullet to enter Darling’s body in a downward trajectory. Darling was shot in her right parietal scalp, which is roughly on the top right of her scalp near the right temple.
The bullet traveled downward and to the left of her brain. There was no exit wound. Murthy found the bullet had shattered into several pieces.
Simone asked Murthy Thursday if the firing range also depended on the length of the firearm. Murthy said this was correct. Simone also asked if Murthy had information about the type and size of the firearm at the time of the report. Murthy said she did not.
Simone asked if these factors could then potentially mean the firing range was less than 12 inches. Murthy said that in this case she did not believe that could be so since there was no soot on Darling’s body.
The defense’s case
After Murthy’s testimony Thursday, the state rested their case. Patterson deliberated with his attorneys for a few minutes, then told Judge Shanklin he will not testify in the trial.
The defense called one witness to the stand, a longtime friend of Patterson’s. The friend testified that Patterson would often come stay at his apartment because he and Darling were fighting.
He said in 2016, Darling would sometimes come to his apartment and try to get Patterson to exit. The friend said one time Darling damaged his door and that across several incidents, she slashed a total of 14 of his tires. The friend said she slashed them because he would let Patterson borrow his car.
The friend said Thursday he doesn’t recall Patterson ever going outside to speak with Darling when she’d come looking for him. He said Darling’s demeanor was “very angry” and that she never appeared afraid.
When briefly discussing Darling’s death, the friend said Patterson always maintained that it was an accident and gave a similar account of what he told detectives.
With that, the defense rested its case as well.
What’s to come
Over the course of three days, nearly 30 witnesses testified in Patterson’s murder case. Judge Shanklin decided that the jury would not go into deliberation Thursday.
Shanklin said he worried that if the jurors started to deliberate, they would feel rushed, and he said this case was a serious matter that should be considered carefully.
On Friday, the state and defense will each give the jury their closing arguments and then the jury will head into deliberation.
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