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Trial in ’87 cop slay opens in Kew Gardens

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Nearly 14 years ago, when Police Officer George Scheu was shot outside his home in Flushing, the muzzle of the gun was so close to his face that it left an indelible pattern of gunpowder below his left eyebrow that remained on his face until he died in a hospital three days later.

That testimony from the Queens medical examiner’s office came on, a day after opening arguments were made in the murder trial of Henry Vega, who is accused of fatally shooting Scheu in 1987 when the off-duty officer tried to stop him from breaking into a car parked outside his home.     

Vega, of Flushing, is currently serving a prison term of 92 years-to-life, having been convicted in January on unrelated charges of selling narcotics to undercover police officers posing as owners of a nightclub in Flushing. It was during this investigation that the police learned of Vega’s suspected involvement in the death of Scheu, 41, and in the 1996 robbery and shooting death of a man in Kissena Park.

In opening arguments Monday, Daniel Saunders, an assistant district attorney, contended that Vega had told undercover officers operating the nightclub that he had murdered Scheu when he tried to stop him from breaking into a Mercedez-Benz. That admission, he said, was recorded on videotape and was again made to police at a station house after Vega was arrested.

But Vega’s attorney, Jonathan Latimer III, argued that his client was entrapped, in the jury trial being heard by Justice Randall Eng of State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens. In an interview after Vega’s sentencing on narcotics-related charges earlier this year, Latimer said the only reason that the police set up the nightclub was because they lacked evidence to convict Vega for murder.

On Tuesday, Saunders took jurors through an entirely forsenic account of how Scheu died. Dr. Kari Reiber, the medical examiner, said there were two types of wounds on Scheu’s body: a gunshot just below the middle of his left eyebrow and an assortment of scrapes and bruises. Later in cross-examination, Vega’s attorney asked Reiber whether those bruises may have resulted from a struggle, a question she said she could not answer.

In her testimony, the medical examiner said a bullet that was lodged in the back of Scheu’s brain brought about his death three days after he was shot. She also said the muzzle of the gun was not more than a foot away from his face, at most, when it was fired, a fact confirmed by a forensic phenomenon known as stippling.

The stippling, or tiny fragments of gunpowder embedded in the skin when a gun is fired, was scattered about Scheu’s face in a pattern 4 inches long and 3 inches wide, remaining there until he died, the medical examiner said. This indicated that the weapon was discharged possibly inches away from Scheu, she said.

Scheu had been wearing a navy uniform the night he died: black shoes, a white T-shirt, white trousers with a belt and one handkerchief. The gunshot wound caused blood to spill onto his shirt and trousers, the medical examiner said.

A ballistics expert was expected to testify later Tuesday as well as an undercover police officer. But it was unclear whether the proceedings would be closed in order to protect the officer’s identity.

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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