by Paul Bowers
Would a left-handed man have committed suicide by shooting himself in the right side of the head? Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson says the evidence leads her to believe so. After reviewing the State Law Enforcement Division's evidence in the case of 19-year-old Denzel Curnell's June 20 shooting death, Wilson says "it is clear to me" that Curnell committed suicide.
"I do not know whether Mr. Curnell was left or right handed. Being left handed, however, does not prohibit the use of the right hand to fire a weapon," Wilson wrote in an e-mail today.
In the nearly month-long investigation of the shooting death of 19-year-old Curnell, family members and the NAACP have questioned the theory, initially put forward by police in an e-mail to city leaders, that Curnell shot himself outside of the Bridgeview Apartments on North Romney Street. Some witnesses said they saw a Charleston police officer shoot Curnell, an account that Police Chief Greg Mullen and Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. have denied. Acquaintances of Curnell have also said he was left-handed, and the Curnell family's lawyer has said that the gunshot wound indicated that the bullet entered on the right.
In an e-mail to the City Paper, Wilson provided the following evidence that convinced her of the suicide theory:
1) Mr. Curnell had GSR [gunshot residue] on his hands
2) his gun was used
3) his gun had blood and tissue on it
4) the wound was a contact wound
5) he had blood spatter on his right hand
6) the trajectory of the bullet also was consistent with a self-inflicted wound.
Wilson also wrote that Officer Jamal Medlin, the Charleston Police Department officer who was on the scene at the time of Curnell's death, did not have blood spatter or gunshot residue on him, according to the evidence she received from SLED. Add to this evidence the fact "that Mr. Curnell suffered from depression and suicidal ideations," Wilson says, "and the conclusion that this was a suicide is even clearer for any objective reviewer of the facts. Sadly, Mr. Curnell himself once stated to the military that he was usually quiet and would do as he was told but would 'snap when the moment arises.'"
Officer Medlin's account of the event has not been released by the police department, despite repeated Freedom of Information Act requests from the press. The department will hold a press conference on the Curnell case at 2:45 p.m. today.
Wilson announced her stance on the case in a letter to SLED Special Agent Jomar Albayalde this morning. "I have read the report and based on everything you provided, it is clear to me that Mr. Curnell committed suicide," Wilson wrote to Albayalde. "The fact that Mr. Curnell suffered from depression and died in the prime of his life is nothing short of tragic."
The Charleston Police Department has been slow to release details about the investigation, despite mounting pressure from the community and the local NAACP branch. The investigation was handed over to SLED early in the process, a measure that is customarily taken when an officer is involved in a shooting.
Wilson's letter reveals some new details about the SLED report, which has not been made available to the public. According to the letter, two adults and one juvenile witness claim they saw Officer Jamal Medlin "shoot Mr. Curnell from behind and from some distance." However, Wilson writes that she does not believe them:
The descriptions and characteristics of the gunshot wound documented by both EMS and the pathologist directly contradict these witnesses' accounts. The witnesses' statements also are not supported by the condition of Mr. Curnell's revolver (which fired the fatal shot) or Officer Medlin's pistol (which was not fired at all). Only Mr. Curnell's DNA was found on his revolver.
Scroll down to read Wilson's full letter to the SLED agent: