Friday, October 18, 2013

Jury hanged 5-1 for aquittal causes mistrial

Defense Attorney Blue Rammefeld

I think there need to be some apologies. I think there need to be some people buying some beers.” - L.J. Cotterill, a juror polled after the mistrial of the Grisham case

Belton – In the first few minutes following his release as a juror who sat for four days in judgment of a soldier accused of fighting a police officer for possession of his loaded assault rifle, L.J. Cotterill was nervous, afraid, unsure of himself.

He wasn't really sure Judge Neel Richardson of Harris County really meant it when he told he and his fellow panelists they were released from their duty, that they could now freely discuss the case with others.

I don't want my address mentioned,” he said. “And I don't want my superiors calling me down for this.” When an attorney gave his expert advice that he was now free to say anything he chose about the experience, he relaxed, though he still appeared to be shaken by the four days of grief and drama he had witnessed from the jury box.

He only knew he had a burning desire to explain why he and four other jurors refused to return a guilty verdict, though prosecutors insisted a Dashcam video clearly showed a man acting with “criminal negligence,” which is defined as a “gross deviation from the standard of care an ordinary person would exercise.”

After 16 hours of deliberation, 2 days of testimony, and 7 trips back to the courtroom to get further instruction from the judge, the longest jury trial of a Class B Misdemeanor case on record in Bell County came to an end when the jurors hung hopelessly, 5 to 1 for acquittal.

According to Cotterill, who is occupied as a corrections officer at a local penitentiary, prosecutors failed to convince all of the panel members except one that M/Sgt C.J. Grisham acted with criminal negligence when he allegedly interfered with Temple Police Officer Steve Ermis as he arrested him on March 16 because a citizen complained of her alarm at seeing a man armed with a large black gun walking along Airport Road in that city.

Juror L.J. Cotterill
It was just a messed up situation. The problem we all had was with the definition of criminal negligence. I think there need to be some apologies and there need to be some people buying some beers.”

The complaint went through three amendments of the charges, starting with resisting arrest, then changed to a violation of the disorderly conduct statute - rude display of a weapon in a manner calculated to cause alarm – and ended with the charge of interfering with a public official as he was trying to perform his appointed duty, that of disarming a soldier loudly protesting the loss of his weapon to a police officer bent on proving that he could legally possess a firearm, though he has a concealed carry permit for handguns.

The video, according to lead prosecutor John Gauntt, Jr., clearly showed Sgt. Grisham trying to “grab the gun” when Officer Errmis suddenly pressed the muzzle of a semiautomatic handgun to his neck, levered his body across the hood of his squad car, and forced him down by his hold on the sling attached to the weapon. He then jammed the gun into his ribs.

The gesture, according to the defense team, was that of an instinctive reaction, one soon abandoned when he allowed the cop to put the cuffs on him.

Ermis testified at trial that Grisham refused to put his hands behind his back and became irate when he told him he would take his gun and keep it while me made efforts to identify him as either qualified, or not qualified to possess a firearm.

According to Sgt. Grisham, “They couldn't prove me guilty; that's why this happened.”

He said he and his son were out for a Boy Scout hike, that “We never intended to commit a crime. We went out there to complete a 10-mile hike...The next thing you know, a person can be defending himself from the illegal actions of a police officer.”

He called the American legal system “the best system in the world.” Though “I've been given many opportunities to make this (charge) go away,” he added, he chose to fight the charge because “The laws are too vague.”

The public will not get a chance to form their own opinion because the video has been placed under an extended gag order following the end of the trial. The judge assured the defense attorney that he would assess severe penalties if his order is ignored and the spectacle appears on Facebook or any other form of exhibition.

The proceeding was stormy with acrimony between defense attorney Blue Rammefeld and the judge, who often spoke to the lead attorney rudely, saying, “Let's get to the point,” and nearly shouting, “Let's go! Ask your question,” as he tried to explain his objections.

According to Rammefeld, “The Temple Police Department came at my client, C.J. Grisham...”

He said of his triumphant defense, “It took four days, but they deliberated 16 hours, and I think that shows what a passionate issue this is.”

When he rose to make his closing statement, he demanded a ruling on a motion for the judge to recuse himself for making prejudicial statements about the Grisham family's character, their methods of parenting, and allegedly calling Rammefeld a liar.

At that moment, he brandished a tooth brush and tossed it on the table before him. “I was willing to go the jail in case they tried to throw any of us in jail.”

The reason for the vigor of his defense, his unbridled passion to let the jury system decide?

It's to inform the police what they can and cannot do.”

The judge excluded the public from witnessing jury selection, hearing jurors' questions, and the reading of the verdict. Had Rammefeld ever seen a public jury trial so sequestered from public access?

I have not seen one, but it is at the judge's discretion,” he replied, with all due stoicism. Prosecutors may choose to refile the charge, and if they do, said Larry Keilberg of, “We will pay all legal expenses for another trial.”

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