Belton – After two tense days of testimony, lawyers for the prosecution and the defense could not reach agreement on how to instruct members of the 4-man, 2-woman jury how to reach a verdict of innocence or guilt based on their perceptions of evidence and testimony.
To return a verdict against a veteran Master Sergeant accused of carrying a loaded assault weapon “in a manner calculated to alarm,” jurors must weigh the intent of the 22-year veteran of the Army when he escorted his son on a Boy Scout hiking merit badge jaunt down a country road.
Just what conclusions they must reach to assess guilt or find him innocent is a matter of negotiation between attorneys who turned every question and answer into a disagreement over perceived discrepancies between what the witnesses said in either direct testimony, or cross examination, and what was written in official reports. The two sides clashed repeatedly during the course of the case in chief as each presented evidence and testimony in the misdemeanor disorderly conduct case.
After meeting in chambers for more than two hours, Judge Neel Richardson told family and friends, witnesses and jurors, “We've gotten to a point where, if I had a charge, I don't think it would be fair to hand you the charge at this late hour.”
He and the attorneys will spend the evening hammering out an agreed array of findings, and jurors will go home for the evening, to return fresh at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16, he decided.
Minutes earlier, prosecutors stipulated that the complaining witness, a Children's Advocacy Center Program Director named Laura Wilkerson, never mentioned being “alarmed” when she originally reported the “odd” behavior of Sgt. C.J. Grisham on March 16, as he hiked west with his son Christopher Jr. along the shoulder of State Hwy 36 before turning off on Prairie Hill Road near the Temple Airport, a loaded AR-15 carried across his chest on a sling, and a 45 cal. semiautomatic Kimber pistol in a concealment holster at his side.
It was not until she arrived at the offices of the Temple Police Department to meet with an investigator who took her statement that she followed his suggestion and used the modifier he suggested to describe her state of mind, prosecutors agreed. The word is “alarmed.”
Officer Steve Ermis began the day's testimony under cross examination by defense attorney Blue Rammefeld. He explained that during the course of the investigation, he ventured the opinion on Facebook that he could prove that Sgt. Grisham resisted arrest, or search and seizure, a charge that was later amended to disorderly conduct by carrying a firearm in a manner calclulated to alarm. He also said that he had received death threats to himself, his wife and children from unnamed parties who chose to voice their threats over social media.
It was not the most comfortable of days for the Grisham family, who clashed with security personnel in the lobby of the criminal courts building over Sgt. Grisham's lapis lazuli pet rock. A deputy said its possession is a security violation of the department's policy and turned him around to back out in a rainy parking lot and put the item in his car instead of bringing it into the courtroom for the day's proceedings.
When the defense called his son Christopher Jr. to testify about the circumstances of his arrest, he was not allowed to finish answering the first series of questions before the lead prosecutor halted his testimony, asking “Did anyone tell you are under the rule?”
Nonplussed, the young man asked in a vague tone of voice, “What does that mean, sir?”
Under the witness exclusionary rule, those who are scheduled to testify are admonished at the beginning of a criminal trial to stay out of the courtoom, to not discuss the facts of the case with spectators or other participants, and to not be present when and such discussions take place.
After several faltering attempts to answer the man's questions, he finally admitted that he listened to his mother and father discuss the case at home.
When the judge told him he could step down from the witness stand as the attorneys held a side bench conference in hushed tones, he stood in the middle of well of the courtroom, a stricken look on his face before suddenly bursting into tears and running from the room, followed by his mother, who also wept.
Following another in camera conference regarding the matter, the judge emerged from his chambers to say, “The spirit of the intent of what the court meant was that people who were going to testify could not discuss the case or be present when it was discusssed, and I don't blame Chris, Jr. I blame his parents.”
He was allowed to testify, and when he did, he concurred with what had been depicted in multiple video clips that recounted the arrival of Officer Steve Ermis, who asked Sgt. Grisham why he was carrying an assault rifle strapped across his chest.
His father indeed told the officer that he was doing so because he can, and he told the rest of the story of the arrest and the confiscation of the two firearms in much the same way other witnesses have.