Murder Trial

Today I attended a murder trial. I have not often been in court; when I was 14 I took the witness stand in my parents divorce to say that I wanted to live with my father. Sometime during my teen years I’m told I got to sit in on a Supreme Court trial -- something to do with the hops used in brewing. It obviously left a big impression on me. When I was twenty-three or so I appeared in Virginia traffic court and plead guilty to having an expired vehicle inspection sticker (I thought Virginia had switched from twice a year renewal to once a year so I delayed getting it done). In my 28 years in Georgia, I have been called to federal jury duty once (but was not picked for any cases) and county duty once. The one trial where I was a juror ended up with a directed verdict, so I did not get to help decide the case.

On February 25, 2008 Brian Joseph Mough was shot in the back by Richard Gear. Reports of the incident can be found here and here among others. An obituary is here. The Moughs were our neighbors for almost seven years before they moved from Buford to the Winder area. My children grew up playing with their three boys: Travis, B. J., and Zack; and Rachel and Zack would occasionally get together even after they moved.

Jury selection began yesterday (Nov 17) as chronicled here. The final jury was chosen around 1pm today; visitors were then permitted inside the courtroom. Judge Lawton E. Stephens is presiding; the prosecutor is District Attorney Ken Mauldin; Ed Tolley is defense attorney. Joe Johnson of the Athens Banner-Herald represented the fourth estate, as well as Melissa Hanna who videotaped part of the trial’s beginning. I had a delightful time chatting with them in the waiting area. We avoided discussing the trial and instead talked about the impact of the internet on the various media.

Mr. Maudlin’s opening statement lasted for about an hour and twenty minutes, if I remember correctly. Mr. Tolley’s was much less. It was like watching two painters at work, each creating their own picture, while simultaneously trying to erase or change the other’s work. Maudlin tried to paint B. J. as a conscientious, responsible young man (which he was) who, for some reason, followed Gear’s two daughters home on his motorcycle. Gear initially fired two shots, which missed. Some time later, B. J. had turned his motorcycle around and was heading back the way he came, when Gear fired a third shot, striking B. J. in the back with the bullet passing through his other side. It isn’t yet clear why B. J. followed the girls to their house. Evidence of a collision between his bike and the girl’s car wasn’t brought up at that time although an obscene finger gesture by one of the girls was introduced. It also isn’t clear if B. J. was aware of the first two shots. With his helmet on he may not have heard them. We may never know.

For some reason, Mr. Maudlin focused on the time between the second and third shots. He stressed that it could have been between two and four minutes.

Mr. Tolley clearly wants to paint a much different view. Gear is claiming self-defense therefore Bryan must be seen as an aggressor; someone who tried to intimidate two innocent girls; and who clearly threatened Gear with his motorcycle. Tolley strongly disputed Maudlin’s account of the time, claiming that phone logs would show that all three shots took place in no more than two minutes. Perhaps the theory is that a shorter time frame forced Gear to act quickly. Tolley did not bring up the undisputed fact that his client shot B. J. in the back. Tolley also made sure to paint Gear as a sympathetic figure who has multiple health problems and is suffering from fourth stage kidney disease.

Tani was first on the witness stand. It was obviously a very emotional time for her; at one part of her testimony she had me crying on the inside with the pain of her loss. I thought she did a magnificent job of describing how her son was on the path from boy to man: searching for his life’s career, working two part-time jobs, attending school part time, selecting and paying for his cycle, then learning how to ride it in a responsible manner.

Mike followed her and, while fewer questions were directed to him (and they were mostly repeats of what was asked Tani), he did equally well.

Tolley did ask if B. J. had any girlfriends. Yes, but Bryan and Brittany had broken up six to eight months previously. Tolley wanted to ask something else, but a sidebar with the DA prevented that. Perhaps one angle would have been to use this to support the notion that B. J., being mad at girls, would have been motive to intimidate Gear’s daughters. Tolley also drew attention to a picture of B. J. with some type of Japanese sword. It may have been similar to this.

The trial ended before six; the first witness tomorrow apparently comes with a lot of pictorial evidence. Given my work schedule, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to attend. If I go, I must remember to bring a notepad.

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