Ethan Gratton watches from the witness box as members of the jury exit the court room for a brief recess on Tuesday afternoon. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some accounts in this story may not be suitable for all viewers. Disgresion is advised.

ST. ALBANS: Ethan Gratton, 28, took the stand Tuesday in his own defense of the fatal shooting that killed David Hill, and seriously injured Mark Brito on January 2, 2017.

Gratton’s testimony lasted almost three and a half hours Tuesday. It was the latest in a two week long trial for the Georgia man.

Gratton’s story didn’t change from the story that his attorneys have been spewing for the past two years, which was that Gratton was acting in self-defense when he fired upon Hill and Britto when the pair was loading a skidder onto a trailer outside the Gratton home.

Gratton testified that he first approached Hill out of concern for traffic safety, asking Hill to move his truck down the road to a safer location for loading. When Hill responded using vulgar language, telling Gratton he would load his skidder where ever he wants, Gratton said he went back into his home to watch from the front picture window.

That is, until Brito showed up with the skidder, pulling it into the driveway to turn around. This, according to Gratton, is when he went back outside to confront Hill about the use of the family’s driveway.

“I told him it was a private driveway,” Gratton testified, “and it wasn’t for commercial use.”

Gratton said Hill again used vulgar language, and again told Gratton he would be doing whatever he wanted. Gratton said he went over to the driver’s door of the truck and wiped the dust off the door to see if he could get a phone number for the trucking company.

“I wanted to report them to their company,” Gratton testified, “I wanted to let their boss know how they were acting.”

That’s when Gratton says Hill shouted, “You’re scratching my f**king truck!”

“That’s when I knew I was in trouble,” Gratton said, “So I ran back toward my driveway.”

Hill would follow, according to Gratton, ultimately punching the 28-year-old in the face, breaking his nose and numerous teeth.

Gratton testified that he doesn’t remember drawing his 40 caliber Smith and Wesson, but does remember hearing three of the five shots that hit Hill, before taking a couple of steps to the left, and shooting Brito as he ran towards Gratton.

Defense Attorney Kelly Green shows members of the jury photographs of the roadway outside the Gratton family home on Georgia Mountain Road during testimony from Ethan Gratton on Tuesday afternoon. Gregory J Lamoureux, County Courier

State’s attorney Jim Hughes pointed out that Brito had to run towards Gratton to get around the front of the truck if he were running towards his friend, David Hill.

“So running towards you is enough of a threat to get shot?” Hughes quipped. “He didn’t have a weapon, did he?”

“He also didn’t hold up his hands,” Gratton replied.

Testimony continued with Gratton explaining that he went to his truck to get a second gun, as he wanted to commit suicide. His truck was locked, so he went inside to get his keys. When he went back outside to get his 45 caliber Ruger from his truck, he went back down to the roadway to move Hill’s lifeless body out of the roadway in an attempt to delay any indicators for passing motorists that think something tragic had happened.

Gratton said he just wanted to give himself a few more minutes to call his mom to tell her what had happened before he took his own life.

“I tried to drag (Hill),” Gratton said, “He was too big, I could only drag him a few feet.”

“So you were going to drag (Hill) around the truck and leave his body in the ditch?” Hughes questioned.

“Yes,” Gratton replied.

Gratton would go back inside, but not before noticing a shell casing in the driveway near where he was shooting, picking up and pocketing the brass.

“Why did you pick up that shell casing?” Hughes would later ask on cross-examination.

“It was habit from shooting on the range,” he said.

When pressed by the defense team, Gratton said he was “extremely scared,” when Hill came after him, leading to the defense’s argument in the case.

Graton, who has had no previous criminal record, said he went inside the house to the kitchen sink, before ultimately going to the bathroom to better determine what on his face was bleeding.

Graton says he tried to contact his mother but she and his father would come home before he could successfully do so, preventing him from taking his own life.

Gratton would make his way down to the road, down to the family vehicle, where he handed over the gun he used to shoot the two men, to his parents. He didn’t tell them though that he had a second gun with him. When he was sitting alone in the back of the Gratton’s SUV, he hid that gun under the front passenger seat.

Gratton’s emotionally charged testimony is likely to leave a question in the jury’s mind as to the motive of the murder charge. Tomorrow the defense is expected to call Gratton’s medical doctor and a blood spatter expert to testify in the case.

Friday is the last day the trial is scheduled, although deliberation could run into the weekend, if needed.