HOUSTON, Texas — People shivered under umbrellas in a dark parking lot Tuesday night to pay respects to Houston police officer Timothy Abernethy, whose death was described in a courtoom earlier in the day as a cold-blooded killing.
Abernethy was shot Sunday morning after a traffic stop led to a chase on foot through a troubled northwest Houston apartment complex. Prosecutors allege that 28-year-old Mabry Joseph Landor III, out of prison on parole, shot the policeman three times, knocking him to the ground, and then walked over and shot the officer once more in the head from point-blank range.
Tuesday night, church leaders arranged a flashlight vigil at the complex, Luxor Park, in Abernethy's honor. More than 100 people attended, including about 20 police officers, despite blustery wind and rain. Most of the others were Luxor Park residents, among them the handful who tried to help Abernethy in his final moments. They hoped the vigil would help improve relations between complex residents and the Houston Police Department, which they said was marred by mistrust on both sides.
In a court hearing Tuesday morning, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Craig Goodhart told a judge that Landor led Abernethy on a chase through the complex, then turned and fired three shots that wounded the officer, knocking him down near the apartment playground.
Goodhart said witnesses saw Landor walk up to the stricken officer and shoot him in the head while he lay on the ground.
When Landor was questioned Sunday, he told police that his gun had fired accidentally after he tripped and fell, the prosecutor added. Landor made his brief court appearance Tuesday in handcuffs, clad in a yellow jumpsuit that signifies high-risk prisoners in the Harris County Jail, where he is being held without bail.
State District Judge Michael McSpadden appointed attorneys Chuck Hinton and Kenneth Goode to represent Landor. He then granted their request that he prohibit police from trying to question Landor further about the incident. Hinton declined to comment on the case.
A spokesman for the Harris County Medical Examiner's office said Abernethy died from gunshot wounds to the head and neck. Chief Investigator Beverly Begay said there was no indication that Abernethy had been wounded in the torso, arms or legs.
HPD Capt. Bruce Williams said Abernethy was wearing a bulletproof vest during the shooting, but declined to comment on wounds or whether the vest stopped any bullets.
A kind soul
As Tuesday night's prayer vigil was set to begin in an apartment parking lot, Capt. Ceaser Moore stood alone in the dark playground, his head bowed near the stairwell where Abernethy had fallen.
Moore was Abernethy's commanding officer in the North Division, and he had come to know Abernethy as a good worker and a kind soul.
During Hurricane Ike, when Moore's power was out for two weeks, Abernethy invited him to stay with his own family, despite having a house full of in-laws who were also without electricity.
Abernethy, a 43-year-old officer who had served 11 years with HPD, was working overtime Sunday as part of a special effort to put more officers on the streets in high-crime areas.
While most residents appreciated the heightened police presence, some acknowledged there was a criminal element in the neighborhood that resented the intrusion.
`It's scary as hell'
Even as Abernethy lay dying, some people walked by without helping, seemingly oblivious to the officer's suffering, said 42-year-old April Alfred, one of several who tried to stanch the policeman's wounds.
"In this community, some people don't want to get involved. You never know who you're dealing with," said Rose Dennis, who lives in the complex. "I've only been here three months, and it's scary as hell."
Several elected officials spoke at Tuesday's vigil, urging both the city and citizens to work for harmony.
"Police officers are our friends, and we need to treat them as such," said Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson. "This is our community, and we need to take it back. It's just not police alone who are going to make this neighborhood safer."
Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia asked residents to shake officers' hands on their way out of the vigil. As the crowd scattered in the rain, three officers standing against an apartment building found themselves in the midst of an informal receiving line, offered a barrage of handshakes and hugs.
"Be careful," one woman said.
SERVICES FOR TIMOTHY ABERNETHY
Visitation: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Klein Champion Funeral Home, 16131 Champions Forest Drive. Abernethy's immediate family will receive relatives and friends from 4 to 7 p.m.
Funeral: 11 a.m. Friday, Champion Forest Baptist Church, 15555 Stuebner Airline.