Ex-trooper's trial in ATV death ends with hung jury
A mistrial was declared Wednesday after a jury deadlocked in the case of a former MSP trooper charged with causing the crash death of a teenage ATV rider by Tasing him during a pursuit.
The jury of six men and six women reported Wednesday afternoon it could not agree on a verdict in the case against Mark Bessner, leading Judge Margaret Van Houten to declare the mistrial.
"I know this has been a grueling week and a half ..," Van Houten told the jury. "We appreciate your efforts in trying to reach a decision."
The jury sent a note to the judge Wednesday saying, "We have exhausted all conversations and viewed videos and reviewed the written material and still have a hung jury."
She scheduled a pretrial hearing for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Wayne County Circuit Court, when a new trial date is expected to be set.
Jurors had tried for three days to decide whether to acquit or convict Bessner, 44, of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter in the death of 15-year-old Damon Grimes on Aug. 26, 2017.
Grimes family members refused to comment Wednesday but were clearly upset over the jury's inability to render a verdict.
A spokesman, Oliver Gantt, said the family is disappointed but looks forward to a new trial, saying he is hoping for a "better" jury that will "see the evidence for what it is" and deliver a "just" verdict.
"It's not over," said Gantt. "I think they should take it as far as they should go. They should have a retrial 'cause justice has not been served in this matter. This is another matter where we have people seeing or thinking that police always get off when things occur to young black men and we don't want to see that happen again."
Bessner's attorney, Richard Convertino, said his client is "temporarily relieved."
"It is a temporary condition because we're going to have a retrial in this case," he said.
"It weighs heavily on my mind personally," the defense attorney said, , expressing sympathy for Grimes’ family. "This family doesn't have peace and a conclusion and this is still up in the air for them, which is a horrible thought. I feel for that family greatly."
Convertino said while the jury "deliberated hard" he believes jurors "had difficulty wading through the evidence" but added that "the jury was absolutely diligent" in doing its job.
Convertino said he expects the new trial will be scheduled for spring. He said Bessner remains under a lot of stress.
"He can't plan for the future," the attorney said. "This is still over his head."
Convertino said he will ask the judge to have the tether Bessner is wearing removed while the former state trooper awaits a new trial.
Grimes was driving an ATV when Bessner and his partner gave chase in the area of Rossini and Gratiot. Bessner Tased the teen and seconds later Grimes crashed into a parked pickup on Rossini around 5:30 p.m.
Bessner testified last week that he deployed his Taser because he believed his life and that of his partner, who refused to testify during the trial, was in danger. The former trooper also said he saw Grimes reaching his left hand toward his waistband.
Several witnesses testified before Bessner's testimony that they did not see Grimes' hands leave the handlebars of the ATV that day.
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Matthew Penney said during his closing arguments Monday there was no justification for the Taser to be deployed. He said the four witnesses who testified that they never saw Grimes' hands leave the ATV's handlebars had no motive to lie.
Penney said Bessner had no "reasonability" to use deadly force, saying he didn't yell "gun, gun, gun" on his mike to dispatchers.
"He doesn't say anything like 'I thought there was a gun' until the ambulance left," the prosecutor said.
The prosecutor said the only thing Grimes was guilty of was riding an ATV in the city, which is a nuisance violation.
"Penney asked jurors: "Where’s the explanation? It's not there."
Convertino told jurors during closing arguments Monday that they must not view Bessner's actions with "20/20 hindsight." The defense attorney said his client was forced to make a "split-second decision" in a tense, uncertain and "rapidly evolving" situation.
Convertino said Bessner "had no idea what was in the mind of Damon Grimes" or what the teen's intentions were that day during the chase when the teen allegedly sped past the troopers.
"You must consider the police officer's point of view...perspective," said Convertino. "They're forced to make split second decision in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving."