ATLANTA (AP) – Jurors watched the videos many times during the trial of three former Georgia sheriff’s deputies who were accused of murdering a man during an arrest in 2017 when they shocked him with electric batons.
But now it’s up to you to decide what the recordings of Eurie Martin’s final moments mean and whether they comply with the law that Henry Lee Copeland, Michael Howell and Rhett Scott charged with murder.
Lawyers gave closing arguments in a Sandersville courtroom Thursday, and the judge said deliberations will begin Friday after he explains the law to the jury.
Prosecutors renewed their allegations that Copeland, Howell and Scott, all white men, had no reason to arrest Martin, a 58-year-old black man, after a resident called 911 to report Martin as a suspect.
Martin, who suffered from schizophrenia, walked through the central Georgian town of Deepstep on a hot day in July 2017 and took a 50-kilometer trip to see his relatives.
“We’re here because Eurie Lee Martin had every right to move on,” Assistant District Attorney Kelly Weathers told the jury to kill him. “
However, defense lawyers argued that Martin was illegally on the street, throwing trash when he dropped the soft drink, and interfering with an officer if he disobeyed MPs’ orders and took an aggressive stance towards them. They also argued that the stun gun did not result in Martin’s death, which means the officers did not attack him with a lethal weapon, a key element of one of the murder allegations.
Defense attorney Shawn Merzlak argued that the three former MPs were “simply innocent” on all charges, including negligent homicide, wrongful imprisonment and aggravated assault. The Washington County Sheriff fired them before they were charged.
“If the officer sees someone on the street, the officer sees a criminal offense,” said defense attorney Mark Shaefer. “And he has authority to make an arrest and the person cannot legally leave.”
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“These men didn’t murder anyone,” Shaefer said later, “they didn’t attack anyone. You made an arrest that was legal. “
Shaefer said the defendants and Martin are “strangers who bumped into each other on Deepstep Road. It’s a tragic, tragic accident. But it’s not a crime. ”However, Weathers said that death“ is not an accident if your actions recklessly disregard the foreseeable ”.
Howell and Scott, but not Copeland, testified in their own defense.
Weathers disapproved of the defense’s repeated focus on exactly where Martin was walking on a street with no sidewalks. She also found that the crime scene officers were discussing accusing Martin of trespassing and not walking illegally on the street. She called this claim “backfill” to cover up wrongdoing.
Weathers once asked, “Seriously, is that a crime?” when she pointed to some of the extensive dashcams and witness videos admitted as evidence.
“That wasn’t a crime,” she said. “That was a man in a mental crisis who needed to be examined. He didn’t need to be arrested. It didn’t have to be scanned over and over again. … He needed help. He didn’t understand. “
Another point of contention in the case is whether the stun guns actually killed Martin. The defense said the autopsy and expert witness statements suggest Martin did not electrocute him.
“Nowhere in this report will the state medical expert say that the taser was the cause of death,” said Merzlak.
But Weathers said the stun guns caused his death.
“It hurts to be tasted,” she said. “Pain causes stress, and physiological stress caused Martin’s death, according to coroner Eurie.”
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.