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Jury to resume deliberations Tuesday in ATV death trial

Former Michigan State Police trooper Mark Bessner takes the stand and testifies in his own defense. He claimed self-defense as the reason for using his Taser on 15-year-old, who then crashed his four-wheeler and was killed in the accident. The preceeding took place in the fifth-floor courtroom of Judge Margaret M. Van Houten at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Thursday, October 25, 2018.

There was no justification for a former state trooper to deploy his Taser against a teenaged ATV rider who crashed into a parked pickup and died seconds later, a prosecutor told jurors Monday during closing arguments in the trial of Mark Bessner.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Matthew Penney told jurors that Bessner did not alert a dispatcher that he believed Damon Grimes, 15, was going for a weapon when the teen allegedly took his left hand off the ATV's handlebars and reached toward his waistband Aug. 26, 2017.

Penney said Bessner had no "reasonability" to use deadly force that day, saying he didn't yell "gun, gun, gun" on his mike to dispatchers.

"Does he sound stressed?" Penney asked. "Where’s the explanation? It's not there."

Penney reminded jurors of the testimony of a Detroit police officer, Jalen Williams, and two other witnesses who testified last week that they did not see Grimes take his hands off the handlebars of the ATV.

"You know when someone is telling you the truth," said Penney. "We have four eyewitnesses ... all  testified they never see Damon's hands leave the handlebars."

At the center of the legal arguments: whether Bessner was reasonable in using deadly force when he deployed his Taser and fired at Grimes, and whether the Taser probes took effect and emitted enough charge to incapacitate the teen.

Penney said the two probes, one found in Grimes' lower back and the other in the teen's hair, did take effect. Penney cited a Taser expert he put on the stand last week.

Also at issue is whether Grimes lowered his left hand toward his waistband just before Bessner deployed the Taser. Prosecution witnesses said the teen didn't move his hand off the ATV. 

Bessner's defense attorney, Richard Convertino, said during his closing arguments that Bessner was in fear for his life and that of his partner and told jurors they must not view Bessner's actions with " 20/20 hindsight." Convertino said his client was forced to make a "split-second decision" in a tense, uncertain and "rapidly evolving" situation.

"You must judge Bessner on the circumstances that appeared to him," Convertino told jurors Monday. "It’s a tragic decision. It's a horrendous decision but it’s a decision he felt he was forced to make."

Convertino told the jury: "It’s simple and straightforward. Was (Mark) Bessner justified in firing his Taser? Did he believe the life of he and his partner was in ... danger? That's the  question."

The jury began deliberating Monday and requested to see the Taser and its probes.

Members deliberated for about 3 1/2 hours before leaving for the the day and will continue considering the case Tuesday.

 Bessner is charged with second-degree murder and two counts of involuntary manslaughter. 

If convicted of the murder charge, Bessner could spend life behind bars. If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Bessner testified last week that he saw Grimes reaching for his waistband with his left hand and believed the teen was going for a gun. Several prosecution witnesses testified, however, that the teen's hand never left the handlebars of the ATV.

Bessner testified Thursday he thought it was "proper" to deploy his Taser.

"It was a deadly-force situation and I used the only tool I had," he testified "It was a split second ... I didn’t have time to make a decision."

Bessner admitted during his testimony Thursday that he had been disciplined for improper use of a Taser. That incident occurred last year. 

The Taser's probes hit Grimes in the left lower back and one lodged in the teen's hair on the left side of his head. Bessner said he and his partner immediately rendered Grimes first aid after he patted the teen down to see if he had a gun. Bessner said he did not find a weapon on the teen.

Bessner said he was shocked when he learned after an ambulance took Grimes away that the person he shot with his Taser was a child.

"I was ... shocked when I learned he was 15," said. "It was a terrible tragedy and all I could think of was that this family … had lost their son and all I could think of was my daughter and what they must be going through and all I could think of is what happens now. ... "

Bessner testified, "It felt like I'd been punched in the gut. I had no idea ...  It looked like a grown man. He was a boy."

Bessner was part of the Secure Cities Partnership, an anti-violence crime task force, when he was assigned to patrol Detroit's 9th precinct, where he said there had been problems with ATVs "terrorizing" neighborhoods. A Detroit Police officer, Jalen Williams, who is stationed in the 9th precinct, testified earlier this week that he did not receive any briefings about problems with ATV in the area.

There was three days of testimony in the trial.

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