A mistrial was declared nearly 12 hours after the jury of nine women and three men started deliberating in the murder trial of a white former police chief charged in the killing of an unarmed black man.
Around 2:05 a.m., the jury deliberating murder and voluntary manslaughter charges came back into the courtroom and announced it was hopelessly deadlocked.
Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson declared a mistrial.
“I appreciate your service,” he told the jury.
The jury vote was 9-3 in favor of a guilty verdict, Solicitor David Pascoe said after the mistrial was announced. He did not know whether the vote in favor of guilt was on the murder charge or voluntary manslaughter charge.
Pascoe said he would seek to try the case again but added it was too early to be specific.
Just before midnight, the jury told the judge they were deadlocked in the case, in which Richard Combs, 38, was charged in the May 2, 2011 shooting death of Bernard Bailey, 54, outside Eutawville town hall.
Bailey family members left court early Tuesday morning without comment, as did Combs, the defendant.
Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson asked jurors: “You-all are deadlocked right now? Stuck?”
Jurors, their faces tired and serious, nodded.
Dickson then read them a standard legal charge for deadlocked jurors, telling them they “had a duty” to make every effort to reach a unanimous verdict but they shouldn’t surrender a deeply held conviction.
The jury, with seven black members and five white members, had begun deliberating around 2:30 p.m. Over the course of nearly 12 hours, its members asked for legal definitions for murder, manslaughter and malice, asked to see a police video of a traffic stop and asked to hear an emergency call made by former Police Chief Richard Combs made about one minute after he shot Bernard Bailey to death in the Eutawville Town Hall parking lot.
Then, around 9:30 pm, the judge sent out for pizza from Pizza Hut, which the jury had along with cold, canned soft drinks.
Up until Monday, the only charge against Combs was the more serious murder charge. The voluntary manslaughter charge being considered carried a two-year-to-30-year prison sentence. The murder charge carried a 30-year-to-life sentence.
Charges in the case, which attracted national attention, stemmed from the fatal shooting of Bailey, 54, under controversial circumstances.
Combs acknowledged that he shot Bailey – whom he had just placed under arrest – as Bailey started backing his truck out of a parking spot to leave the scene.
But the jury mulled two conflicting views of the situation, shared during roughly three hours of closing arguments Monday.
Defense attorney Wally Fayssoux said Combs only fired at Bailey as a last resort, in fear for his life after the chief found himself caught in Bailey’s Chevrolet pickup truck door and falling as Bailey backed out, apparently resisting arrest. At the time, Combs was trying to put handcuffs on Bailey.
“The chief doesn’t have to wait until the wheel goes across him before he fires in self-defense,” Fayssoux told the jury.
But 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe told the jury that Combs was a “rogue cop” who, nursing a grudge against Bailey, had plotted for five weeks to create a situation whereby Bailey, an assistant Wal-Mart manager and former prison guard, likely would become flustered and try to leave Town Hall.
Law and order itself is at stake in this case, Pascoe told the jury.
“The system breaks down when you have rogue police officers gunning down an unarmed man,” Pascoe said, adding an argument of self-defense doesn’t apply in Combs’ case. “If you are going to take a human life and get away with it, you have to be completely without fault. You have to have clean hands.”
Defense attorney Fayssoux told the jury the case only involved several seconds – the time at the pickup truck when Bailey clearly knew an officer of the law was serving a legal arrest on him, and Bailey was using his pickup truck as a deadly weapon to run the chief down.
State prosecutors, Fayssoux told the jury, “would have you believe that an officer goes from being the man he is to a monger of hate ... They have to prove that he shot Mr. Bailey based on hate and on fear.”
Bailey, Fayssoux said, put the chief “in the impossible position of deciding whether he wanted to go home and see his family or being run over by Mr. Bailey’s truck.”
Fayssoux also told the jury that despite being afraid for his life, Combs only fired three rounds into Bailey from his .40-caliber Glock.
But Pascoe reminded the jury of an earlier incident, five weeks before Bailey’s death, telling the jurors they couldn’t just look at the few seconds when the shooting took place to evaluate the incident. On March 15, 2011, Bailey showed up at a traffic stop where Combs had pulled over Bailey’s daughter, Briana, for a broken taillight.
Although a video played to the jury showed some brief, possibly tense exchanges between Bailey and Combs that night, there was no clearly overt menacing action by Bailey.
Five weeks later, when Bailey showed up unexpectedly at Town Hall to ask whether his daughter’s traffic court date for the broken taillight could be moved because she was away at college, Combs surprised him with an arrest warrant for obstruction of justice for the night of the traffic stop.
Bailey walked out of Town Hall with Combs walking behind him, saying, “Sir, stop, you are under arrest.” Combs followed Bailey to his truck and then, as Bailey jumped in his pickup, started it up and put it in gear, the shots rang out.
Pascoe said there’s no doubt the jury should find Combs guilty.
“If I’m wrong, give him (Combs) back his badge, give him back his gun, and let him arrest someone else’s daughter,” Pascoe said, calling Combs a liar because of what Pascoe said were Combs’ inconsistent statements in the case.
Earlier Monday, before closing arguments, Dickson denied defense motions for a mistrial.
In their jury arguments, Pascoe and Fayssoux – at times shouting in loud, gravelly voices – each attacked the other, with Fayssoux accusing Pascoe of portraying the ex-chief as “an evil monster” and tilting the evidence so he could notch up a win, and Pascoe accusing Fayssoux of wanting to give law officers permission to kill someone without legitimate cause.
The closing arguments came on the fifth day of the high-profile trial. Nine witnesses testified for the prosecution and seven for the defense, including Combs.
The trial has attracted national attention, following several incidents of white law enforcement officials killing unarmed black men. Last fall, a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot an unarmed black teen – an incident that provoked riots. More recently, an unarmed black man in New York died after being placed in a chokehold.
But the prosecution never claimed Bailey was shot because of his race, and defense lawyers told the jury specifically that race played no part.
Instead, the trial focused on the two incidents between the two men that led to the shooting.
Also emerging as a theme, though somewhat muted, was a small rural town’s lack of resources, such as immediate available backup and equipment such as Tasers or Mace that might lead to non-fatal resolutions of situations.
At the time of the shooting, on a weekday morning, Combs was the lone police officer in Eutawville.