Murder Trial, Finale

On the morning of Monday, December 1, the attorneys presented their closing arguments. As reported by the Athens Banner-Herald, the jury took just 3.5 hours to return a “guilty” verdict on the charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Richard Gear was sentenced to life plus five years.
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Murder Trial, Part 6

Under construction. I have over 8,000 words of notes to distill and organize.
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Murder Trial, Part 5

[updated 11/26/08 @ 9:55am]

I was unable to attend Monday’s testimony. Visit the Athens Herald-Banner for their excellent reporting. In particular, watch the video. After testimony by David Prince, at 3:15 into the video, a medical examiner testifies about the wounds sustained by the deceased. Missing from the online report, I’m sure due to space reasons, is that autopsy pictures of Bryan showed that he was wearing a shirt with the slogan, “It’s just a flesh wound!”. Monty Python fans know that this is from their 1975 movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. Mr. Tolley, the defense attorney, tried to use this to show Bryan’s supposed “aggressive” nature. (see also here). According to Mr. Mough, this backfired, so that several jurors and even the judge chuckled at this attempt. This slogan is not based on aggression, but on high farce and defiance -- a “never say die” attitude. Mr. Mough viewed this as Bryan’s last laugh.

This particular example of Python humor can be seen here on YouTube.

[update]

A Georgia State Patrol collision reconstruction expert testified that the motorcycle was traveling 26 to 28 MPH when it crashed. From previous testimony, the Oconee City Sheriff’s Office bought a Kawasaki EX250 bike in order to reconstruct elements of the events. In particular, using a professional motorcycle rider, they attempted time trials on the loop around N. Church, Main, and Broad streets. Starting the bike in second gear, they measured the following:
  1. Normal start: 27.2 mph @ 232 ft.
  2. Revving start #1: 48.8 mph @ 247 ft.
  3. Revving start #2: 54.7 mph @ 285.3 ft.
We can use the formula: vfinal2=vinitial2+2ad and solve for the acceleration of the motorcycle:
  1. 1.05 m/s2
  2. 3.16 m/s2
  3. 3.44 m/s2
Let’s use the highest acceleration, 3.44 m/s2, and determine how far it would take the bike to get to 26 mph using the same formula. It turns out to be 64.42 feet. Gear has said that Bryan went past the Gear’s driveway, “whipped around” on his bike, and charged at him. In order to reach the low range of speed determined by the Georgia State Patrol - 26 mph - at the highest acceleration that could be obtained on the bike by a professional driver, Brian had to be about 64 feet away when he turned around. If his acceleration was 3.16 m/s2 then he had to be 70 feet away. If he reached 28 mph, he had to be at least 74 feet away.

The physics also shows that the motorcycle would have under four seconds to reach the final velocity. So testimony shows that the third and fatal shot was fired at least a minute after the first two. Unless my math is way off, I think this conclusively disproves the claim that Bryan “whipped around” and charged Gear.
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Murder Trial, Part 4a

Under construction.
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Murder Trial, Part 4

The first witness, David Walker, was sworn in at 9:08am on the fourth day of the trial. He is an AT&T Network Mobility Manager, responsible for cell site planning, switch planning, budgets, and capital investment. He was designated by AT&T to be the custodian of Dianna Gear’s cell phone records, obtained from AT&T via subpoena. As the time of a call is important evidence, it was established that AT&T rounds call time up to the next minute. The minutes start when a call is answered. Next, time synchronization between phones, towers, and switches was discussed. Everyone needs a primer on the Network Time Protocol. The district attorney noted that the time on his phone was different from that of the witness and asked why. Walker responded that a customer can manually set a phone to be ahead or behind of the network time. He did not note that synchronization of the displayed time with the network can be turned off. There was a discussion of tower locations and the RF coverage from the three “faces” on each tower. Aerial images of the cell towers were submitted into evidence.

It’s clear that the DA will use the phone records to broadly show the location of the Gear girls at the time of their calls to mom. The calls were:
  1. 5:29pm, Chelsea to mom, 3 minutes, cell id 12462
  2. 5:52pm, Chelsea to mom, 3 minutes, cell id 12462
  3. 6:07pm, Mom to Chelsea, 2 minutes, cell id 12462
  4. 6:28pm, Chelsea to mom, 2 minutes, cell id 11803 (possibly 11802 -- my notes are not clear on this point)
  5. 6:35pm ??? (the data was removed from the display before I could transcribe it)
The first four digits of the cell id identify the tower that handled the call; the last digit identifies which “face” picked up the signal. For the first three calls, the east face of the tower near the Target handled the call. I assume that the fourth call was handled by the west face of the tower servicing Bogart, GA. The witness was excused at 10:17am.

[... to be continued, hopefully tomorrow...]

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Murder Trial, Part 3

[updated 11/25/08 9:20pm]

Day three of the trial began at 8:30am. The district attorney called Corporal Shane Partain to the stand. Corporal Partain received the call to go to the accident scene around 6:40 to 6:50pm on February 25, 2008. He testified that he arrived around 7:05pm. He carried an LED flashlight with a built in video and audio recorder. This model appears to be similar to the one he had. He recorded the conversations various police had with Gear after the incident. Gear stated that he believed that Bryan had hit the girl’s car. He recalled firing only once. Part of the search for the shell from the gun was also recorded and presented.

Partain is also a motorcycle enthusiast. He testified that the motorcycle, a 2008 Kawasaki Ninja EX250, was in second gear when it crashed.

On March 3, 7 days after the shooting, Partain retraced the route from the Target to the Gear home. He left the Target at 6:18pm and his in-car recorder showed that it was still light. He arrived at the Gear home at 6:31pm. He stated that it was “relatively light, not dusk, could see without headlights on.” The defense attorney, Mr. Tolley, did not want this video shown. He argued that it was a re-enactment of the timeline of the events of that night and, as such, was not permitted by the Supreme Court. The DA countered that it was not intended as such, but was solely to present lighting conditions. Obviously, the DA wants it lighter; the defense wants it to be darker. The judge ruled that the video could not be placed into evidence, but that still shots of the start and finish of the video could be shown. Defense countered that, at 2 minutes of additional light per day [sic], there would be an extra 15 minutes of daylight in these pictures. For March 3, the Naval Observatory reports sunset at 6:33pm and the end of civil twilight at 6:58pm. As noted in the previous post, on Febuary 25, sunset was at 6:27pm with civil twilight at 6:53pm. Obviously, the defense attorney fudged the numbers a bit.

On cross, Tolley wanted to show a portion of the video that showed cars with headlights on, which Judge Stephens did not permit. Tolley asked the corporal if he recalled streetlights being on during this time. He could not recall.

At 1:24pm, the DA called Deputy David Burchett, who received a call to report at 6:45pm. He arrived on scene about 6:55pm. Other police were already at the scene and the victim had been placed in the ambulance. He did not know that Corporal Partain’s flashlight had A/V capability. He was assigned to watch Mr. Gear and to ensure that there were no incidents. Except for briefly helping to look for the bullet shell, he mostly stayed with Gear. Later, he measured the width of the road, the width of the driveway, and Gear’s location near the mailbox where the shooting allegedly transpired. This document can not be found, not due to the fault of Burchett. On cross, Tolley attemped to show that Gear had fired closer to the street and had subsequently backed up. The deputy could not support or refute that theory.

At 2:10pm, Captain Jimmy Williams took the stand. He is the 911 director for Oconee County. At 2:22, the state entered in evidence the 911 calls for the current incident and one from February 20, 2006 at 10:16pm. At 2:33, the first 911 call was played. A private citizen whose privacy will be respected, called at 18:32:24 and said, “a motorcyclist may have been shot in the middle of Gear Road.” At 2:39 the call from Gear was played. This call was made at 18:32:26. Gear was heard to say, “He hit my daughter’s car then he swerved over at my mailbox and tried to run me over.” The call from 2006 was not played.

Deputy Sheriff Scott Underwood began his testimony at 2:59pm. He secured the scene then spent approximated an hour trying to locate the shell casing. Several deputies assisted for most of that hour in which an area of 1,200 - 1,500 square feet was searched. No casing was found. Asked if a metal detector would find brass, he replied “I assume so.” (Note: they can).

Sergeant Steven Guest was sworn in at 3:19pm. He is trained in accident investigations. He did not claim to be an expert but that he has testified at several trials. He arrived at the scene around 8:30pm whereupon he marked the area with orange paint. The next day he used these marks to create a 1” to 10’ scale drawing of the area.

Using the video recorder in his patrol car, he too made a tape of the lighting conditions around the time of the shooting, but two days afterwards. As before, it wasn’t dark. He participated in the effort to match the motorcycle to the damage to the Sentra.

On cross, at 4:08pm, Tolley noted that the scale drawing showed that Gear’s driveway was 24 feet wide, while the street was only 21 feed wide (inside of fog line to inside of fog line). I suppose this was an attempt to discredit the drawing. However, the Google satellite photograph of the scene shows that the driveway is slightly wider than the street. The scale drawing appears to be correct. It will be interesting to see if this backfires on Mr. Tolley.

Sergeant Guest is also a certified laser operator. Tolley then noted that in second gear, from a “normal” start the motorcycle was able to travel at 27.2 mph. A “revving” start showed speeds of 48.8 mph and 54.7 mph.

I had to leave after this witness.

From the scale drawing made by Sergeant Guest, the motorcycle travelled at least 44.25 feet after it hit the pavement. With the help of my son, who is a first year graduate student in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois, we did a very rough calculation of how fast the bike was going when it fell over. The calculation depends on the coefficient of friction between the bike and the pavement . Obviously, we can’t know this value with much accuracy. We don’t know how much of the bike or the rider was in contact with the pavement. However, the following graph shows the possible speeds for coefficients between 0.1 and 1.8. I must stress that this graph could be wildly inaccurate and was done solely for my amusement.

[update 11/25/08 9:20pm]

As reported by the Athens Herald-Banner, a Georgia State Patrol collision reconstruction expert testified on Monday that the motorcycle was traveling 26 to 28 MPH when it crashed. These baselines have been added to the graph, showing a coefficient of friction between 0.5 and 0.6.



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Murder Trial, Part 2

I was unable to attend today’s portion of the trial.

Yesterday’s testimony placed the Target in Athens as the location where the interaction began between Bryan and the Gear girls, Chelsea and Samantha. Using the information in the affidavit for a search warrant for the car driven by Chelsea, I’ve constructed a Google map of various points of interest including the Target, the Gear home, the Mough home, and points along the way. Note that the location of the Gear home on my reconstruction is inexact.
  1. Chelsea stated she and Samantha left Target around 6pm and turned left onto Atlanta Highway to head home. As the map shows, this is also the way Bryan would go home.
  2. They both passed the Pepsi facility near the intersection of Atlanta Highway and Hwy 78.
  3. The next location is the intersection of Atlanta Highway and Burson Avenue. Here, Chelsea stated that Bryan was going straight while they were turning right. That matches how each would travel home. However, this is where Chelsea says she made an obscene finger gesture to Bryan. Again, according to the affidavit, this is where Bryan turned to follow them.
  4. Chelsea turned left onto Elder Street and claims that this is where a collision occurred between her car and Bryan’s motorcycle.
  5. Chelsea then stated that Bryan turned left onto North Church Street.
  6. Chelsea stops at Elder and Broad Street. Bryan supposedly appears behind her again, which means that he had to travel along Main and take the dogleg right on Broad.
  7. Chelsea then drives to her house where the fatal shooting takes place.
Item 3 is where Bryan deviates from his route home. I have to wonder, was the offense of receiving “the finger” enough to get Bryan upset enough to follow the girls, which lead to the collision in 4? Or did something happen earlier to cause Bryan to follow them? I suppose the forensic evidence of any incident at Burson Ave and Elder Street would have been presented today.

To add to the mystery, the affidavit states:

that Deputy Sergeant Ken Elrod was on patrol in the Bogart area during the time of the incident.... Specifically D/S Elrod was in his marked patrol car parked in front of the Bogart Christian Church at the intersection of Elder Street and Broad Street, D/S Elrod was backed into a parking space facing the intersection. D/S Elrod states that neither a motorcycle nor a Nissan Sentra passed in front of him during the time described by Chelsea Gear.

Was the deputy wrong as to the time? Was he sure that he was alert? Did Chelsea lie about this? It’s an awfully elaborate story if so. At the very least, this is how she would have gone home. How long did she have to concoct something before her statement was taken? Was there any evidence of a collision on Elder Street?

Let’s add another complication. Google maps claims that the travel time from the Target to Bryan’s home is 39 minutes. Google doesn’t use the route that Bryan would have taken, but let’s assume that the time is accurate enough. Using data from the U. S. Naval Observatory, on that day sunset was at 6:27pm, with civil twilight ending at 6:53pm. If Bryan left the Target at six, that gave him barely enough time to get home under the conditions of his driver’s permit. Would he take such a risk because a girl he did not know flipped him off?

Without Bryan to defend himself, my concern is that the defense attorney will use Bryan’s alleged deviation from his way home to follow the two girls, for the simple slight of an obscene gesture, to attempt to show that Bryan was aggressive enough so that the girl’s fear of harm was real and substantiate the notion that Bryan might have likewise been aggressive toward Gear. At this point, I’m not sure what else Mr. Tolley can do. But all he needs to do is raise reasonable doubt. But even this will be very difficult if the evidence shows that the motorcycle stayed in the street and did not threaten Gear.

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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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