Student who shot teacher a reluctant witness at trial


Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 10:57 p.m.
WEST PALM BEACH - A somber and shackled Nathaniel Brazill, on the witness stand for the first time since he testified about murdering his teacher, refused to utter a word Thursday. Instead, he shook his head "yes" and "no" to answer questions.
Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga translated the gestures and noted that the 16-year-old Brazill, now 15 months into his 28-year prison sentence, refused to testify, declining to speak even his name.
The teen's attorney, Robert Udell, said Brazill only wanted to testify if it would help the case of Pam Grunow, the widow of the teacher he shot in a school hallway two years ago.
Grunow is suing the distributor of the gun used to kill her husband of nine years, charging that the company could have made the weapon safer with a lock.
Her lawsuit charges that the weapon too often falls into the hands of juveniles who use it to commit crimes and that its small size and cheap construction make it look like a toy.
The case has drawn national attention because it is the first to address both the absence of a gun lock and the flaws associated with a cheap, easily concealable weapon that might be mistaken for a toy.
Attorneys for gun distributor Valor Corp. called Brazill to the stand. They maintain the fault lies with him, not the gun, which fired a bullet after Brazill pointed it at Barry Grunow and pulled the trigger.
With a nod of his head, Brazill told Valor attorney Jennifer Anderson that he wanted to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege, so nothing he said could be used against him as he appeals his second-degree murder conviction.
Jurors were secluded in the jury room during his brief testimony and didn't watch as he reluctantly shook his head to answer questions. Instead, they'll see parts of his videotaped testimony from the criminal trial next week.
Udell said Brazill wanted to help Grunow without hurting himself. He said defense attorneys could have used Brazill's testimony to show why he was to blame and that the gun worked properly.
Valor attorney John Renzulli said the testimony will only show the truth about who's to blame.
"I don't think there's any person that has an ounce of common sense that wouldn't hold Mr. Brazill responsible for what he did," Renzulli said.
Valor attorneys also cast blame on Lake Worth Middle School for allowing Brazill onto campus with a weapon and on the family friend who kept the gun unlocked and next to bullets in a dresser drawer, where Brazill found it.
Grunow's attorneys criticized the defense for attempting to try the criminal case all over again, instead of focusing on whether the gun distributor should have made the weapon less dangerous.
"This case is simply about a product that should never have been on the market," attorney Bob Montgomery said. "This gun has no business - it's not collectible, it's not used for hunting, it's not used for target practice. It's only used for what you heard about in that courtroom, and that is to hurt people."
Montgomery, known for successfully spearheading the state's efforts to sue Big Tobacco for $11.3 billion, compares the case to early lawsuits against tobacco companies.
In those suits, the public initially believed that people who bought cigarettes should know about their potential consequences, much like gun owners know their weapons can kill. But as juries learned how tobacco companies could have made their products safer, they began awarding multibillion dollar verdicts to smokers.
Montgomery said the defense wants to place blame "every place except where it belongs and it belongs on this gun."
Udell said that Brazill, who testified during his criminal trial that he didn't mean to pull the trigger, believes the tragedy could have been avoided.
"His position is, had this gun had a safety which worked, that Barry Grunow would be alive today, and Nathaniel would still be writing love letters to Dinora," Udell said, mentioning Brazill's former girlfriend.

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