Jury deliberates in ex-trooper's retrial for ATV death

Defendant Mark Bessner, right, listens during the closing arguments to the jury by Asst. Wayne County Prosecutor Matthew Penney Tuesday  afternoon.

A jury Tuesday began deliberating in the second trial of Mark Bessner, the former Michigan State trooper who’s charged in connection with the death of teenage ATV rider Damon Grimes.

Jurors deliberated for just over an hour before leaving for the day. They are due back to continue deliberations Wednesday morning.

Final arguments were presented to jurors Tuesday but not before the defense rested without calling a single witness, including Bessner, who told Judge Margaret Van Houten he would not testify in his own defense..

"I exercise my right (not to testify)," Bessner said in a sworn statement before Van Houten in Wayne County Circuit Court. 

During his closing statement, Assistant Wayne County prosecutor Matthew Penney renewed his contention that Grimes was not a threat to Bessner and his partner and was actually the vulnerable one during the deadly encounter Aug. 26, 2017, that included a brief chase by the troopers on Detroit's east side.

"Mark Bessner caused Damon Grimes' death," said Penney. "Mark Bessner knew that firing at Taser at Damon Grimes created a high risk" of the teen being injured or  dying.

"There can be no question that Mark Bessner knew that (the Taser) was going to cause some harm to Damon Grimes," Penney said, adding that Grimes was not a threat to Bessner and that using the Taser was a form of "deadly force."

 "Why are you shooting? What's the threat? What was (Grimes) doing to (justify) firing a Taser? All he was doing was riding an ATV in the city of Detroit," Penney said. "What was going through his head when he shot that kid in the back?"

ATV rider Damon Grimes is seen on a DPD in-car camera as he eludes the MSP scout car of defendant Mark Bessner and his partner before he is allegedly shot with a Taser by Bessner.

Penney compared the impact of the Taser connecting with Grimes' body to getting hit with a baseball bat.

"That man made a decision and that decision was not reasonable," said Penney. "He knew the consequences ... and he made (the decision) anyway."

Penney told jurors that Bessner appeared to have problems with people riding ATVs in Detroit.

"What is going through his mind when he sees ATVs?" the prosecutor asked, referring also to an Aug. 12, 2017, incident in which Bessner allegedly chased ATV riders on Fort Street near downtown Detroit.

Defense attorney Richard Convertino, in his closing arguments, told jurors that Bessner thought "his life was in imminent danger" and that video from the incident was "clear as a bell" that Grimes dropped one of his hands from the handlebars of the ATV.

Convertino has said his client thought Grimes was going for a weapon in his waistband.

"The hand comes down and the situation changed," Convertino told jurors Tuesday.

Convertino said Grimes could have turned toward the park in the area of Rossini and Gratiot and instead came in the direction of the troopers' scout car.

"He came right at 'em and veered off," said Convertino, who added that the Bessner and his partner were dealing with a "tense, rapidly-evolving, uncertain environment."

Convertino said Bessner and his partner followed their department's Use of Force Continuum. He also told jurors Grimes was too big to be on the ATV, which he said had bald tires, making operating it like "riding on ice."

"It was an unsafe, unsound ATV he was too heavy for," said Convertino, who added that it is "preposterous" that a Taser hit to Grimes' head could have caused the teen to crash into a parked truck.

"What caused the accident?" said Convertino. "If you have doubts, then you must acquit."

Also on Tuesday, Van Houten ruled that Bessner's partner, Ethan Berger, did not have to testify in the trial, despite giving statements for a deposition in a federal civil lawsuit about the deadly encounter with Grimes.

Berger did not take the witness stand in Bessner's first trial, also for charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

The judge denied Convertino's request to keep statements from another trooper from being presented to jurors.

During his testimony during the first trial last year, Bessner told jurors the deadly incident "was a blur" and that he believed that his life and that of his partner was "absolutely" in jeopardy.

Bessner said he was "shocked" to learn that Grimes was only a teenager, saying it was a "terrible tragedy."

"All I could think of was that this family ... had lost their son and all I could think of way my daughter and what they must be going through," said Bessner on the stand. "And (all) I could think of (was) what happens now? What do we do now?"

Bessner said once he found out Grimes was a child, "I felt I had been punched in the gut. It looked like a grown man. He was a boy."


(313) 222-2027