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Originally published January 14, 2011 at 9:01 PM | Page modified January 14, 2011 at 9:20 PM

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Woodcarver's arm likely raised when officer fatally shot him, but significance debated

John T. Williams' right arm was most likely in a raised position when he was shot by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk, based on the path of a bullet that entered the back upper part of the arm, a King County medical examiner testified Friday during the inquest into Williams' death last summer.

Seattle Times staff reporter

John T. Williams' right arm was most likely in a partially raised position when he was shot by Seattle police Officer Ian Birk, a conclusion based on the path of a bullet that entered the back upper part of the arm, a King County medical examiner testified Friday during the inquest into Williams' death last summer.

Birk's attorney, Ted Buck, elicited the answer from Dr. Aldo Fusaro while holding his right arm in much the same way Birk did earlier in the week when he told the eight-member jury that Williams brandished a knife at him.

Williams' attorney, Tim Ford, in his own demonstration, asked Fusaro if the position of the arm could be consistent with someone holding a knife in his right hand while pressing it against a flat piece of wood. Fusaro agreed that was possible.

Williams, 50, a woodcarver and First Nations member, was carrying a flat piece of wood and a small knife when he was shot four times by Birk on a sidewalk at the intersection of Boren Avenue and Howell Street in Seattle. Birk had pursued Williams on foot, ordering Williams three times to put down the knife.

Fusaro's testimony came on the fifth day of the fact-finding hearing, which is to resume Tuesday. At the end of the hearing, jurors will be asked to reach findings that could shed light on whether Birk, 27, acted properly.

Two witnesses told the jury Thursday that they did not see Williams make any threatening moves.

Fusaro, an associate medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Williams, testified that Williams was shot four times, with the bullets predominantly entering the right side of Williams' body.

Williams was hit twice in his arm and once each in his chest and chin, with the bullets taking various paths, Fusaro testified.

Fusaro said he could not say exactly how Williams was standing or precisely the way his body was positioned.

The shot to the chest was lethal, hitting Williams' lungs and leaving two large holes in his heart, Fusaro testified.

Jurors were shown autopsy photos, including one of Williams' severely damaged heart.

Williams' relatives left the courtroom while the photo of his heart was displayed.

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Fusaro said the other three shots caused less damage and would not have been immediately fatal wounds.

In other testimony, Mary Schultz, who was driving near the intersection at the time of the shooting, told jurors she saw Williams facing Birk and fall backward when she heard gunshots and looked in their direction.

Schultz said she also saw Williams make a movement before he was shot, but that she didn't see him well enough to characterize it. She said she wasn't looking at Birk or Williams before the shots.

Seattle police Officer William Collins, who served as a training officer for Birk and was one of the first officers to respond to the shooting, told jurors he considered Birk to be a "fine individual and a very good officer" who was able to calmly deal with people.

Collins also expounded on the dangers of facing off against someone with a knife, explaining how quickly an attacker could strike.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

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