CLAYTON, Mo. - The attorney representing a man accused of killing St. Louis County police Officer Blake Snyder called members of the defendant’s family to the witness stand on day four of the murder trial.
Public defender Stephen Reynolds is attempting to convince jurors to convict Trenton Forster of second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder. A conviction on first-degree would carry a life sentence without the possibility of parole. If Forster’s convicted of second-degree murder, he’d face 30 years in prison but would be eligible for early release.
The first two witnesses to take the stand Thursday were St. Louis police officers Thomas Noble and Jeremy Hake. They spoke about going to homes where Trenton Forster had been living and bringing him to the hospital because he'd threatened to kill himself or his father. One incident occurred in June 2014, while the others were March 6 and March 7 of 2015.
Forster's aunt on his mother's side was called to the stand to describe his young life in Hannibal, Missouri. She said he would pull pillows off the couch and make a cubicle to sleep in or he’d sleep in his brother's closet. The aunt put a lot of blame to Forster’s mental problems on his father, saying the two had an abnormal relationship.
Forster's aunt said his parents went through a messy divorce and contentious custody battle, which Forster's father won. She said Trenton's anger issues grew worse as he got older. As Trenton began talking about suicide, his aunt testified family members agreed he needed mental help but she said his father put obstacles in the way.
Trenton’s own mother cried through much of her testimony. The venom of the divorce was still evident years later as each former spouse made negative statements about the other in the courtroom.
Crystal Forster, Trenton's grandmother, took the stand and described him being frequently angry and upset. She said Trenton believed somebody was out to get him and she wouldn't let Trenton stay with her because she couldn't handle him. She testified that she took her grandson to get a driver's permit but he couldn't get one because he didn't have a permanent address. She said she encouraged Trenton to get treatment for his mental health and drug addiction but he became agitated and left.
A firefighter paramedic who treated Forster after the shooting testified Thursday. She said Forster screamed in pain inside the ambulance and said he was going to die; she replied that she wouldn’t let him die.
The paramedic testified Forster told her Officer Snyder snuck up on him and that he didn't know a cop was approaching his car. This is at odds with previous testimony indicating Officer Snyder approached Forster's car, greeted him, and asked Forster to show him his hands.
The paramedic said one point she asked Forster why a young man needed to have a gun. She said Forster turned away and wouldn't talk anymore.
Austin Soest, Forster's cousin, testified Trenton lived with his family for a time but was eventually kicked out of the home for using and selling drugs. Soest said Trenton often talked about killing himself. The night before Officer Snyder's murder, Soest testified Forster came over and was impaired by drugs and unable to communicate. Forster had a gun in his waistband at the time, the cousin said.
Cynthia Soest, Austin's mother and Trenton's aunt, testified next. She said people tried to help Trenton but he refused every time and, ultimately, nobody in the family wanted him living with them. She often feared something bad would happen with Trenton. In September 2016, one month before Officer Snyder's murder, Cynthia Soest told police he was acting erratically.
Trenton Forster's older brother, Brandon, took the stand. He said Trenton had intense fits that got worse as he got older. Brandon said Trenton began using drugs in middle school and that his brother had been on parole for a felony drug charge at the time of the shooting.
When it came time for cross-examination, prosecutors got Brandon to admit that Trenton was entitled as a child and manipulative, often pitting their mother and father against one another.
The prosecution repeatedly questioned the defense's witnesses about "choices" Trenton had made in life. Choices to use drugs, his choice not to follow the rules of family members when he was living with them, and, most importantly, his choice to buy the gun used to kill Officer Snyder.
The defense team called its first witness on Wednesday – Dr. Patricia Zapf, a forensic psychologist. She spoke about Forster's troubled life, which included drinking at an early age, a mother who would not kiss him if he ate meat, and a family that wouldn't Forster live with them.
Zapf testified Forster had been struggling with bipolar disorder at the time of the shooting.