23 October 2013
Written by: Barbara Lawrence
Television dramas make trials look deceptively short, succinct, and neatly wrapped in a one hour package with ample time to raid the refrigerator. They are not.
I decided to observe the trial of MSgt CJ Grisham myself. What follows are my recollections and research, which no doubt will be the subject of speculation, bad information, and spin by interested parties.
There’s no substitute for being there, as I found out.
In short, on March 16, 2013, Grisham claims to have been on a hike with his son to complete the latter’s Eagle Scout requirements. What is unusual is that he carried an AR-15 and cellphone camera in city limits in an area already skittish from two previous mass shootings: Killeen in 1991 and Fort Hood in 2009.
This is not standard hiking equipment.
When the inevitable call to police from a concerned citizen comes in, Officer Steve Ermis responds to size up the situation, and is met with defiance and resistance. Grisham is arrested for “resisting search and arrest” and “rudely displaying a weapon”, which the Bell County Attorney later changed to “interfering with a public servant”.
Not one to be silent, Grisham has done the media circuit: TV and radio talk shows, and online news coverage, each telling a slightly different story. He has rallied his group called Open Carry Texas, marching to largely empty Temple streets in support of this new twist on the Second Amendment.
The National Rifle Association has chosen to snub Grisham’s cause, though it has taken up support of defensive use of legal firearms in the past.
Undeterred, Grisham places a request for $11,000 on Indiegogo to fund both his defense and the civil suit against Temple he plans to file. To date he has collected $51,798 from his supporters.
His first defense attorney, Kurt Glass, withdrew suddenly without explanation. Local opinion, or rumor if you like, is that Glass was frustrated with Grisham’s refusal to remain mum, even trolling the Temple Police Department’s Facebook page. Comments have since been removed.
In steps the National Association for Legal Gun Defense, pledging an impressive $1,000,000 in defense for Grisham against these misdemeanor charges, and a photo op elsewhere shows Grisham and its national director, Larry Keilberg.
A review of the NAFLGD website shows that it actually pledges that same amount to anyone who pays the $150 annual membership fee, not just Grisham. It’s rather like a pre-paid legal service for lawful gun owners who want representation in civil and criminal suits.
Additionally, it shows a CJ Grisham Philanthropy Fund, designed to help military personnel in legal gun defense, but it’s not a 501(c) 3 organization, a foundation or even held in trust. The NAFLGD spells out criteria for its use, but maintain complete authority over how it’s spent, while extracting management and accounting fees. Likely with Grisham’s knack for publicity, they have benefited from his association.
Grisham’s lawyer, Blue Rannefeld, is their chief counsel. The NAFLGD and Rannefeld are based in Fort Worth, Texas. With that kind of cash floating around, surely Grisham would have the biggest, baddest criminal lawyer in downtown Fort Worth’s Bass Towers.
But strangely enough, Rannefeld’s practice is mostly in the area of family law or general practice. His office is in a small strip mall in suburban Lake Worth, roughly positioned between a Racetrak gas station and Waffle House.
With that in mind, we come to Bell County Justice Complex in Belton, a modern stone and glass facility that combines the jail and courtrooms.
Under gray, overcast skies threatening rain, a small white canopy flaps in the wind at the parkway entrance. A lone Grisham supporter nearby sports a homemade sign: “Carrying a gun is not a crime”.
After a short while, Grisham appears at the courthouse, inexplicably wearing his full dress Army Service Uniform, though it is only required at military court martial. He walks briskly and full of confidence, accompanied by wife Emily and their three children. I remember that it’s still a school week. They enter the automatic doors and disappear. No TV crews or reporters are in sight.
Once upstairs, long oak paneled walls show the way to Auxiliary Courtroom One. Inside Grisham speaks with a handful of supporters, showing them a small toy-like statue. “I call it ‘Standing for Liberty’,” he quips more than once. He schmoozes with friends, tells them how insane it was that he was arrested at all, and that he’s contacted his state representative to look into changing the law. “It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys. It’s us vs. Ermis.” He appears cocky, confident, and smug, but with a nervous edge.
Nearby is Larry Keigel, distinguished with silver hair, beneficent expression and rather snug black pinstripe suit, glad-handing the crowd and reminding me of a Shriner on his best behavior.
Blue Rannefeld is at the defendant’s table, a tall, thirtyish man with slicked-back black hair rummaging through files in preparation for voir dire.
The prosecutor, John Gauntt, Jr., appears to be in his early fifties with graying light brown hair, conservative brown suit, and professorial glasses over heavy-lidded eyes that wrongly suggest inattentiveness. Two hours tick by in pre-trial motions that occur in the judge’s chambers.
Judge Neel Richardson is from Casting Central, an older, gray-haired man in billowing black robes who expects both sides to be organized, prepared, and to the point. He is originally from Harris County, the Houston area, and normally retired. As he is seated, Gauntt walks forward briskly.
Grisham mugs at friends and family, squeezing a red “stress” ball. A few more supporters have arrived by this time. A TV reporter arrives and sits in front of me. The Grishams and supporters are instantly alert, heads swiveling in our direction. I share some background on Grisham with her. After all, he’s caused drama on this scale before.
While in Huntsville, Alabama, he was at loggerheads with their public school over the issue of school uniforms. Following the first PTA meeting, Principal Avis Williams described him as disruptive, rude and nasty, and was advised not to meet with him without security present.
Somehow he obtained her emails, and taped conversations with new Superintendent Jennie Robinson. In PTA meetings he talked over others, stood on his chair, and slammed his fist on the table. As a result, Mrs. Williams, fearful of his behavior, contacted the Redstone liaison officer, and Grisham was demoted from 1st sergeant to master sergeant, and faced an Article 15.
Grisham engaged Joel Jaqubino for a civil lawsuit, and a PayPal button appeared on many milblogs, asking for donations, “to clear his name”. After all, he only lives on a “soldier’s paycheck”.
But what is the paycheck for an E8? Approximately $6000 /month with half of it tax free. In a private Facebook conversation with me he admitted he did have other savings, despite posting that he had been “wiped out”.
He took credit for the firing of previous Superintendent Ann Moore, but she was already on the chopping block for incompetence according to locals. The civil suit was dropped, the PayPal button disabled, and the money unaccounted for. Huntsville breathed a sigh of relief as the Grishams moved on to Texas.
During the voir dire only ten observers are allowed in due to space limitations. I’m one of the fortunate ones. A thin, gaunt bearded young man resembling a hipster complains, “You’re violating our rights!” It’s a common refrain with some of Grisham’s supporters.
Gauntt makes sure the pool understands the elements of law, including presumption of innocence, the right to remain silent, and the right of a police officer to stop and investigate even if a person hasn’t done anything wrong. He asks if a police officer has a dangerous job. Apparently the defendant disagrees with that. He posts:
“In summary, law enforcement isn’t the dangerous job that they would have us believe. It doesn’t even make the top ten in most academic studies. The majority of police deaths have nothing to do with criminals or guns. The leading cause of death among law enforcement officers is getting hit by a vehicle or a shot by a fellow officer. That’s not to say that there aren’t some cities more dangerous than others, but the facts simply don’t justify the level of intrusion into individual liberty that police commit in the name of “officer safety.” Is there no interest in “citizen safety” anymore?” (This post has since been removed).
The sentence for this offense is a $2000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.
Rannefeld questions the jury briefly. A little over half of the jury pool had heard of the case, only three admitted to making up their minds about it. They were excused immediately. Almost everyone had fired a gun. This is Texas after all. Slightly fewer hunted. Most agreed to reasonable force to subdue a suspect. A six man, two woman jury of everyday working citizens was chosen. One was a corrections officer.
Opening statements begin. The Temple Daily Telegram reporter, Deborah McKeon, sits among the Grisham supporters, chatting frequently. Gauntt briefly lays out the sequence of events in a quiet, authoritative manner to support the charge against Grisham.
Rannefeld’s approach is largely emotional, focusing on a cop slavering over power, Grisham’s fear of a gun at his neck, his son Chris’ horror to see his father arrested, and emphasis on Grisham standing with hands at sides on approach. He sums up with a personal story of digging a septic tank with his grandfather, who advises him, ”Cops lie, plant evidence…” when they get themselves into bad situations. He admonishes them to use common sense. He reminds me of an attorney more accustomed to doing personal injury rather than criminal cases.
The 911 caller, Lisa Wilkerson, is the first witness. She called police directly after seeing a man with a “long black gun” across his chest on Airport Road. Never before had she seen such a thing and was alarmed for homes and businesses in the area. Rannefeld reminded her that she only said it was “odd” on tape, not alarming. He wants the call played back but Judge Richardson will only allow Wilkerson to hear it. Rannefeld is unprepared to do so. She is dismissed.
All eyes are the second witness, Officer Steve Ermis, a 27 year veteran of Temple Police Department. He is a giant of a man, easily six feet tall, broad-shouldered, with light brown hair showing faint gray. He moves with purpose and is composed on the witness stand, giving thought to answers in a deep voice.
He describes answering the call of “a man with a gun” on Airport Road, where a Charter School, fire station, public park, two bars, the airport, a children’s clinic and subdivisions are in close proximity. He found two males on a side road with Grisham faced away from him, apparently on his cellphone, standing in the road. He asked Grisham to stop and come forward, noting that the rifle was clipped to a sling, butt up, barrel down. He identified it as an AR-15 with a magazine in place. He asked Grisham to keep hands to sides, to which Grisham complied. He described trying to determine if the gun was real or Airsoft, when he noted the slim window on the magazine revealed live rounds. He asked Grisham why he was carrying the weapon.
“Because I can.”
This is where I start thinking like a police officer. I’m on a side road with two men whose intentions are completely unknown to me. One has a rifle with much greater firepower than me carried in a forward position that can be fired in a heartbeat. I have no back-up close by and am totally alone. Not only that, but I don’t know if the other one is armed as well. Now, the situation has gone from cordial to hostile. I’d better get control of this situation or I could be dead like Fred.
Ermis says he tried to disarm Grisham using the quick-release snap. Grisham immediately grabs the rifle with both hands and is then pinned to the hood of the police car with Ermis’ pistol to the back of his head. Grisham refuses to be cuffed, and from somewhere materializes his cellphone, fully set to video.
Now if one were scuffling with a police officer, struggling for a gun, and resisting to be hand-cuffed, where does one find the dexterity to whip out a cellphone, set it to video and record the sad event unless one had planned to do ahead of time? Just my thoughts.
Four times Ermis told Grisham to put hands behind his back, and four times he refused to do so, said hand grasping the cellphone video. Finally Grisham bargained that he would comply if his son could take the video.
Even when this was done, twice more he refused to comply, and then surrendered the errant hand.
During this time the jury is mostly heads-down, scribbling notes furiously. They are very serious in their appointed duty. The audience is quiet and attentive. Grisham is laser-focused on Ermis’ testimony, frequently taking notes.
Out comes the much sought after dashcam. It was tilted away from the audience toward the jury, judge, attorneys, and Grisham so we were unable to see it, but I caught a glimpse of the first part of it when they were cueing it up earlier. It was amazing to me how fast the confrontation went down. Officer Ermis walked casually toward Grisham; there was a short cordial conversation, then a struggle with Grisham ending up bent over the car hood.
Grisham swiveled in his chair as he watched, frequently smirking and shaking his head. The jury remained serious and attentive, one took notes. The audio is mostly Grisham shouting loudly and excitedly, demanding a supervisor and insulting the officers. “Shut up! I’m not talking to you!” Twice he barks at his son, “Keep the camera on me!”
He loudly protests when officer Ermis and the just-arrived Officer Thomas Menix check his wallet for ID. In court Grisham squeezes the red stress ball openly while viewing the dashcam.
Afterwards Ermis reveals that Grisham did not disclose he was carrying a second weapon, a Kimber Ultra Carry .45 in his shorts. Mentally I make note of the fact that this little seven-shot handgun retails for $850-$1300, depending on how sexy you want it. For a man that keeps poor-mouthing to raise trial money from supporters, that’s some expensive pistol.
Rannefeld struggles to question Ermis, but he is clearly unused to criminal trials. His line of questioning is repetitive and tedious, so much so that Judge Richardson twice reminds him to get to the point and move along.
Finally in frustration, Richardson pounds the bench and scolds him, “That is not how you do an impeachment. You need to review how it’s done before you attempt it again.”
Ermis easily swats away Rannefeld’s inept attempts to trip him up or catch him in a contradiction, all the while maintaining his composure. Rannefeld seems like a junior partner in a law firm, not yet tutored by older, wiser partners.
Judge Richardson is anxious to close the day’s events, as it is almost six o’clock. Tired and grateful, the jury, audience, and participants all retire for the day.
Grisham’s supporters mill around the lobby outside the courtroom, discussing the previous day’s events. These aren’t wild-eyed drooling zombies. They are a cross section of America, rich to blue collar, young and old, all Second Amendment supporters, who strongly support the right to carry in public places. Some are grandmothers, some are veterans, some are bloggers, some are disabled, sporting canes, and some are “good ol’ boys”, but many seem convinced that they are center of the government’s attention in global disarmament. Personally, I doubt they garner that much notice.
In the courtroom, Grisham works the crowd, shaking hands all around. I notice how his supporters dote on him, fetching sodas and opening doors, like personal assistants. Grisham accepts this as his due, glowing in the celebrity. He seems happiest when surrounded by his adoring fans, pumping flesh and taking photo ops.
Ermis takes the stand again, still questioned by the defense. The focus is his two police reports of the incident, one written the day of the encounter, the other ten days later after reviewing the dashcam. The second report is more detailed, but not identical to the first. Rannefeld pounces on the differences.
He points out that Grisham was not waving the rifle in a dangerous manner. Ermis makes a point of saying most people lay their guns on the ground when he approaches if they are innocent. He notes that the rifle was accessible within 1-2 seconds.
Much has been made of wild animals such as feral hogs, pumas, or coyotes in the area (one article dramatically gushed “wild boars”), but Ermis had only heard of an occasional coyote in the area. I note that feral hogs and pumas are largely nocturnal, and coyotes are rarely seen in the daytime except near creeks in spring when they whelp. Ermis denied ever hunting with an AR-15, only a .308, and for good reason. The .223 ammunition of the AR would be a poor choice against large game.
But we’re talking about city limits, where discharging a firearm is illegal. Additionally, the range of a fired .223 bullet is dangerously far when there are people nearby. Rule #3 of Gun Safety: Always be sure of your target and what’s behind it.
Gauntt objects to improper impeachment and Richardson sustains. The jury is attentive, taking copious notes, all faces very serious. The audience looks sleepy, some look bored. In front of me a neatly dressed middle-aged woman quietly reads a David Balducci book. Grisham is writing on a legal pad, rarely looking at Ermis.
Rannefeld takes Ermis again through the sequence of events. Ermis sought to disarm Grisham because his intent was unknown. He reached for the rifle, Grisham pulls it back, and Chris stays back from the conflict.
Grisham resisted hand-cuffs with the instantly produced cellphone camera in the uncooperative hand.
Rannefeld presses Ermis about the necessity of pulling his service weapon.
I think, this is no time for using a Nerf bat. Ermis is definitely out-gunned.
Ermis says he allows Chris to take Grisham’s cellphone camera to try to avoid escalating the situation.
Gauntt again objects to improper impeachment, and Richardson sustains.
Strangely, Rannefeld then begins arguing the charges against Grisham which were later changed to “interfering with a public servant”. Gauntt objects and Richardson snaps “You are quibbling over minutiae”.
Ermis says that he hand-cuffed Grisham at the moment Sgt. Thomas Menix arrived. He determined that there were no rounds in the chamber of the AR-15, and that it was in the “fire” position. Grisham did not reveal he had another weapon until asked, the Kimber .45 Ultra Carry. The weapons were put in the trunk of Menix’ car, and Grisham in Ermis’ car. Ermis briefly discussed the incident with Menix.
At lunch break I notice a lone supporter standing under the now sagging white canopy whipped by the wind and drizzling rain. His sign droops slightly from the moisture. The sky is leaden gray and it’s cold today.
Later, outside the courtroom, Ermis, Menix and two other uniformed officers talk quietly away from Grisham supporters. Ermis has his back to them. Their conversation concerns other police cases, but not a word about this trial.
At this point I notice the woman whom I call “The Lady in Black”. She has been present from the beginning, sitting far away from Grisham’s supporters. She is middle-aged, conservatively dressed, often in black, with a look of firm determination to see this trial through. She refuses to converse, keeping to herself and sitting alone. Her face is etched with lines that betray she has not led a comfortable life. Later I see her speaking with the police officers mentioned above. I wonder how many quiet, loyal supporters like her are here, refusing to mug for the camera or wave signs with defiant slogans. They simply care for the men who have been caught in this maelstrom of notoriety and drama.
In the courtroom, Rannefeld turns his attention to a numbingly long recitation of the Code of Conduct for the Temple Police Department. He focuses on police conduct for interviews being “conversational, not confrontational”, that he should “explain the reason for contact and identify self”, and that a citizen may “refuse the interview, walk away, and refuse to identify himself”. Ermis explains that this was not an interview, but an investigation of an offense.
Despite Ermis’ declaration, Rannefeld uncertainly plods ahead with much more Code of Conduct for Polite Police Officer interviewing Polite Citizen, not Unknown Armed Citizen With Attitude. Ermis again patiently explains it was an investigation of offense.
Judge Richardson cups his chin in his hand, blinking slowly, looking for all the world like a man who wants to throttle another parent’s misbehaving brat.
Rannefeld tries to get Ermis to concede that Grisham’s angry, irate behavior may be due to “having his adrenalin up” or being “nervous”, stammering as he does so.
Ermis replies, “Well, if he hadn’t resisted, he’d be on his way.”
On re-cross Gauntt informs the jury that discrepancies in police reports are common in “critical incidents”. It may take three days for the officer to recall details clearly. The second report was done after viewing the dashcam video, which revealed details an officer may not recall. He summarized his re-cross points succinctly and sat down.
Rannefeld said, “I would like to reserve this witness for re-cross at another time.” Richardson, unhappy with the slow pace, snapped, “You manage your trial and I’ll manage mine.”
Rannefeld then brought up a post on Ermis’ Facebook page, to the effect: “The facts of the case will speak for themselves, that Grisham will be found guilty of rudely displaying a weapon.”
Prior to mention of his Facebook page, Ermis had been composed, professional, and measured. Slightly flushed and raising his voice, he spat that his Facebook page had been hacked, pictures of his wife and children lifted, and his home address posted. All his family, including the children, had received death threats.
One could see the anger and outrage, even though he still retained control.
You can come after me, but don’t touch my wife. Don’t touch my kids. You want a piece of me? Bring it. But leave my family out of it. A full-maned lion roaring at skinny jackals trying to encircle his pride.
Ermis admits to posting the remark, and denies it constituted discussing details of the case. Richardson tells the defense to move on.
There’s a brief exchange about who owned the Federal Firearms License in Ermis’ gun shop, the relevance of which was not clear.
During break, Grisham chews gum while comparing notes with his wife. He pecks at his smart phone in earnest. He’s more serious, less jovial. His son Chris hovers close by. Emily compares notes with Rannefeld while Grisham smiles and chats with others. More supporters are here today, perhaps twenty-five or so.
The TV reporters are very young, perhaps in their twenties. One is a petite woman with long blond hair and impossibly high heels. One is a young Asian man wearing earbuds. Another is a friendly slim young man who has a legal pad full of notes. Smart phones aren’t allowed in open court. Neither is chewing gum.
All three reporters are glued to their smart phones on breaks. No interviews are done. I share background information with them on the NAFLGD, Indiegogo and the Huntsville debacle. They smile and nod with ohs and ahs. Their later TV broadcasts are the bare bones of the trial, two neutral, one favorable toward Grisham. Several facts are wrong.
Sergeant Thomas Menix is the next witness to be called, a 24 year veteran of Temple Police Department and the Day Shift Supervisor. He is the last prosecution witness, and a very poor one, at least in presentation.
In contrast to Ermis, he is acutely uncomfortable on the witness stand, almost shrinking into his seat so as to be unnoticed. He is short, slightly balding, with wire-rimmed glasses that cover his mostly downward gaze. His soft voice fades away to an inaudible whisper at times, necessitating both Gauntt and Rannefeld to have him repeat his replies. Hard of hearing audience members complain bitterly during his testimony.
Menix stated that when he arrived at the scene, Ermis had just gained control of Grisham and hand-cuffed him. He described Grisham as squirming and uncooperative, and demanding a supervisor. Once arriving at the front of Ermis’ car, Menix helped conduct a search along with Officer Sim (who was not called to testify).
Menix explained to Grisham he was being disarmed for safety reasons, and took the weapons to the trunk of his police car. He noted that Chris Grisham was using a cellphone video about ten feet away.
He described Grisham as “emotional” and “unreasonable”. Menix tried to reason with Grisham but it wasn’t possible. Menix explained that the 911 caller was concerned, to which Grisham replied, “Did you explain the law to the caller?!”
Menix stepped aside to discuss the situation with Ermis, who informed him he had asked for the rifle. This was not borne out on the dashcam. Menix gave Chris a ride home as a courtesy and apprised Emily of the situation.
Interestingly, Grisham asked for the message to be passed to Emily to contact Brett Pritchard, a civil trial attorney, not criminal defense attorney. It appeared that thoughts of personal injury lawsuits were uppermost in Grisham’s mind.
The jury was very attentive to the prosecution and Menix. After all, they had heard one version of events, and now had the opportunity to view it through different eyes. Pens were flying across notepads as they strained to hear his testimony.
Like Ermis’, Menix had written a supplement to his original same day report after viewing the dashcam footage. Rannefeld objected, saying he had never received a copy before trial. I’m thinking, isn’t that your responsibility? But then, I’m so far from being an attorney, it’s not for me to say.
Richardson insisted Rannefeld proceed and get to the point. “Go!”
Rannefeld verified that Menix had not seen the altercation, then asked if he had documented a “Use of Force” report. Menix looked confused. (In reality, the report is done by the officer using force). He had not.
The issue of Grisham’s bad behavior being caused by having back problems worsened by the arrest are proposed by Rannefeld. “I’m not a doctor.” replies Menix, “I can’t answer that.”
Rannefeld tackles it from another angle. “Do you get emotional when a gun is pointed at you?” Menix replies, “Probably, but I’m too busy trying to save my life.”
Rannefeld then cites general orders of the Temple Police Department, “An officer must show restraint and courtesy toward the suspect…” and on and on. Privately I’m thinking that Grisham showed none of these toward the officers, and how difficult police work must be. Not only must they catch the bad guys, but now they have to treat them like Waterford crystal, or end up in a courtroom like this.
Showing impatience, Richardson once again tells Rannefeld to get to the point. I get the impression that when Judge Richardson held court in the sprawling metropolis of Houston, he expected his attorneys to be on time, have witnesses prepped, know their cases inside and out, and have their charts and video ready to roll. Woe to him who did not know the rules of evidence. He does not suffer fools gladly.
Gauntt asks Menix about handling an armed and dangerous suspect. He replies that when the situation is under control, or as soon as practical, the general orders of courtesy and restraint apply.
Menix is dismissed as a witness, and his relief is palpable. He quickly departs the courtroom, being the final prosecution witness. The jury remains alert, and Grisham is focused.
Chris Grisham, the fifteen year old son of CJ Grisham and his companion on the day of the incident, is to be the first defense witness. However, his behavior in the courtroom has not gone unnoticed by the observant Gauntt.
Chris looks and behaves younger than his fifteen years. Resembling both parents, he has wide blue eyes, fair skin, and is slender. He slips into the witness stand, clearly frightened out of his wits. He shifts uneasily, eyes darting about like a trapped animal, and occasionally winces at questions. He grips a red stress ball like his father’s.
Gauntt stands, faces him, and sternly intones, “Do you remember you’re under The Rule?” Chris looks confused and appears not to comprehend. Gauntt reminds him that he was not to discuss any details of the trial once it began.
Chris flushes and shifts in his seat. Gauntt asks him if he discussed the trial details with anyone. He admits to talking with his mother. “A little…hardly any…not much really…” His voice trails off. His face appears as though he has betrayed his father instead of vindicated him.
Richardson is clearly angry and calls both attorneys to the bench. Chris is asked to move aside for privacy and weeps silently. Richardson is displeased with Rannefeld for not controlling his witness. He tells the attorneys to solve the issue between them and leaves.
Chris leaves quickly, shielding his tears, still gripping the red ball. The pain of a son who wanted so much to please a self-absorbed father is difficult to watch. Grisham mutters, “It’s okay, it’s okay”, but it’s not clear from his expression if it’s really okay.
Emily follows Chris outside speedily, returning a few minutes later. She cries quietly, putting her head down to her knees. The stress of a trial weighs heavily on a family. She then leans into Grisham and talks intently several times. The attorneys go to the judge’s chambers.
Following a brief recess, the prosecution accepts Chris as a limited witness. He again takes the stand, no more comfortable than before, appearing on the verge of tears, and requiring frequent reassurance from Richardson. He crushes the red ball throughout questioning.
He admits that both parents discussed trial details in front of him. He confirms that he and Grisham were on a genuine Eagle Scout hike, and that his father intended to carry the AR-15. On the hike he said that when he saw the police car, he remained in the background until called forward by Grisham to take the cellphone camera.
Chris was also upset that Ermis’ son showed Grisham’s cellphone video at school. After all, you can hear Chris crying at the end as his father is taken to jail. Adolescent boys can be mean like that. But Grisham was the one who chose to post it on YouTube. Presumably it was more important to Grisham to get the whole video out there than to edit out his son’s potentially embarrassing moment.
I also can’t help but think about the risk to his son in an armed confrontation. Suppose instead of an experienced cop like Ermis, Grisham gets a real cowboy who slams him face first into the asphalt, as some would’ve done, or pulls a gun from the get-go. Chris is directly in the line of fire. What father would orchestrate a stunt like this, and it does smell planned, putting his young son in harm’s way? Answer: A father that would put being in the spotlight before everything.
Here are some idle observations on my part. Grisham likes being the center of attention. I saw that up close, from a prolonged interview, and from past research. Prior to this incident, he was not much in the spotlight.
He had an abrupt, very abrupt, departure from the military radio program You Served for which the listening audience was apparently grateful (52 likes on a site that normally has one to three). Though he blogged on A Soldiers Perspective, there were little to no comments. His Facebook charity, They Have Names, showed a precipitous drop in visitors. It was not like 2009 when he was the darling of milbloggers everywhere. His street cred apparently wasn’t the same now. How to get the blinding glare of the media back in your face?
I ask you this. Does it really matter if the issue is the Second Amendment open carry vs. not open carry, or whether to eat your Oreos dunked in milk vs. unscrew them and eat the frosting first? Which is more likely to get you on Fox News or Glenn Beck? My medical mind is telling me that the issue is not the issue. The issue is attention. Lots of it. Endless amounts of it. From everyone and everywhere. But that’s just a “sidewalk diagnosis”, not the real deal.
Don Clouder was the final defense witness, a resident on Prairie View Road near where the altercation took place. He seemed very eager to testify on behalf of Grisham, who had friends living in his neighborhood. He later was seen schmoozing with Grisham supporters outside the courtroom.
He testified that people carried and fired guns “all the time” in the area, though it is illegal in city limits. He had seen coyotes and snakes only in the area. He admitted carrying guns in the area himself, but “not on the road”.
His testimony is brief and without controversy. He steps down from the stand and Judge Richardson ends the trial early for the day.
Today Grisham has shed his coat and is hugging supporters in the courtroom. The Lady in Black sits apart from the others quietly. Her expression is serious and pensive. Keigel chats with McKeon, the Temple reporter. I could swear he’s wearing the same black pinstripe suit. Outside the courtroom, a female TV reporter arrives. One Grisham supporter greets her and talks excitedly about being interviewed for her program last night. I remember no opposing interviews were aired.
I survey the Open Carry crowd. A woman with a short, golden burr haircut, deep blue eyes, loose American flag top, and blue jeans strolls the hall and says little. The hipster-ish young man often speaks in a conspiratorial whisper, and is quick to accuse Sheriff’s Deputies of “violating our rights”. There are a variety of “good ol’ boys”, mostly retiree age, genial and talkative. No, none of them are in overalls. A tall, thin, young brunette girl with an extraordinary amount of fairly recent tattoos talks loudly and defiantly about open carry in a braggadocios way. Privately I think what my late friend Joe in Special Forces used to say sardonically about such people: They would die real fast in a firefight.
Once in the courtroom, Grisham talks about the dashcam video. He is sure that it exonerates him. Others think it condemns him. Some supporters discuss the trial openly. Others sit silent and aloof.
The attorneys burst into the courtroom from the judge’s chambers and Rannefeld looks flushed and agitated. He tells the supporters that no matter what happens, they are to remain calm. The judge may change his charges to the jury, but no details are given. We are all confused.
During the trial I’ve been discretely sitting in the back row, opposite the crowd of supporters, documenting my observations. I have a girlfriend sitting next to me who is a casual observer, Hazel. Without warning, a young, long-haired, brunette woman wearing too-small jeans plops beside me. I recognize her as a Grisham supporter.
“Is this seat taken?” No.
“Are you with the media?” No.
I reflect that this very ham-handed attempt to find out who we are isn’t very fitting for a Master Sergeant whose MOS is Intelligence.
Richardson finally takes the bench. A red-faced Rannefeld stands up and launches into a high-pitched diatribe against him, accusing him of calling the Grishams “yokels “and saying he “would teach them a lesson in parenting”. He asks Richardson to recuse himself. Rannefeld then brandishes a toothbrush as if it were Excalibur itself, asking to be held in contempt of court. “I have brought my toothbrush, so that I may take it to jail with me!”
“I will stand up to bullies, even if they’re in black robes!” Rannefeld squeaks.
Richardson responds by ignoring him.
Grisham has chosen not to testify. That is unusual for a man who loves to talk, to explain, to justify, to harangue, to interrupt, and even to shout over others, if his videos tell true.
There are too many issues regarding past credibility. There is the issue of his Bronze Star with Valor citation failing to support his claim of taking out an Iraqi squad with a 9mm pistol and a hand grenade. That could be humiliating if exposed in public for all to see.
He has since posted an unauthenticated draft copy of an NCOER as “proof”, but it just as easily could have been written by him.
There could be accusations of wearing his dress uniform in an attempt to influence the jury. There could be close questioning about why he did not follow the rules recommended by his own organization, Open Carry Texas, to notify police that he was going to be open carrying in a certain area.
The charges to the jury are changed somewhat, but the charge of “interfering with a public servant” is the same. The standards for the charge are read with the stipulation of what “an ordinary reasonable person” would do under these circumstances with the addition of “criminal negligence”.
In closing arguments, Gauntt reiterates the sequence of events. The spy next to me mutters under her breath, uttering profanities against the prosecution, the “system”, and whatever it is that distresses her. The neatly dressed woman, now on her third book, glances backward in disapproval. Providentially, the spy’s phone goes off, and she is ejected from the courtroom by a stern Sheriff’s Deputy.
Rannefeld counters that the police lied, pointing to discrepancies in reports and dashcam videos. He believes a “bunch of good ol’ boys” got together to make up charges. He inexplicably mentions that Ermis stomped on Grisham’s foot, which was never mentioned in trial. He believed Wilkerson, the caller, should have called 911, instead of the police department. Though Ermis had testified this was not a situation calling for deadly force, Rannefeld characterized his attitude as “I can shoot someone for walking down the road.” He asserted that Ermis “likes being the boss”. “What does an ordinary person do with a gun to the back of their neck?”
My thought is, don’t move a muscle, Yes sir, No sir, Thank you sir, Three bags full.
Gauntt counters that an ordinary reasonable person would not have initiated this conflict. Grisham invited the charges, not Ermis. There was no reason to ever use deadly force. Wilkerson always called the police directly.
Grisham had a gun to his head because he attempted to wrest his rifle away from Ermis. Gauntt reminds them that charges were changed against Grisham at the County Attorney’s discretion, not the police.
The jury files out to deliberate.
And we wait. Oh how we wait.
Waiting for a jury verdict reminds me of being in an ICU waiting room. You know it’s going to be good news or bad news, but you don’t know how long it’s going to take, and it’s exhausting either way.
Richardson has decided to close the courtroom for jury deliberations. We all sit outside in the long hall, oak paneled walls on one side, and enormous glass windows on the other. The book lady is absorbed in a novel. Grisham’s children pass by, casting furtive glances at Hazel and me. Down the hall there is loud talking and forced laughter at times from Grisham’s supporters. I pass by Grisham in the hall, but he can’t meet my gaze for long.
While sitting in the hall next to a pillar, Grisham pops around it suddenly and extends his hand. “I don’t think I’ve met you. I’m CJ.” I introduce myself. His son Chris snaps a photo of us shaking hands, wags his head in victory, and skips down the hall, presumably having followed his father’s orders successfully this time. Grisham bolts away. I note that Chris addresses his father as “CJ”, not “Dad”.
Grisham never lingers, never confronts. He employs others to do that. How lame.
The ejected spy whose name is Kathy, tries again, toothbrush in hand. I ignore her. She says my staring at other people is very intimidating and makes them uncomfortable. Inwardly I think it’s ironic that two middle-aged women can have such power over twenty rifle-toting would-be badasses. That’s if Kathy is telling the truth. Actually, I’m not interested in them. I’m focused on the courtroom doors for news of the verdict.
Kathy snaps her gum and tries baiting us with snide remarks that I can’t remember. Hazel gets into an argument with her. Kathy has been in Open Carry Texas for two months. I discern that she hasn’t researched it very deeply. Following her argument with Hazel, she immediately goes to Grisham to report on her fishing expedition. Carrying water for Grisham.
I leave to talk to a reporter about the day’s events. The Lady in Black walks by with a MYOB, no nonsense expression and sits near the book lady.
The book lady has closed her novel and is playing a game on her cell phone. She is neatly coiffed with blond, salon-styled, old-fashioned up-do hair. Today she sports a spotless turquoise blouse and black polyester pants. What’s fascinating about her is that there is not a hint of boredom or impatience. She seems accustomed to waiting. Despite attending every day, she always has her nose buried in a book, and seems disinterested in the trial.
Despite the long wait, there is always loud talking from the now closely clustered group of supporters down the hall. The conversation is festive and noisy, arguing the law. “Would you rather go to jail or rather be dead?”
Grisham’s restless daughter Hannah rolls pennies down the hall, and stares at me when retrieving them. I notice the crowd is carrying toothbrushes. I wonder if Grisham is found guilty if they will stage an event to get themselves held in contempt of court. No matter, if arrested their toothbrushes will be confiscated and filed with personal property.
Several supporters say their goodbyes early in the afternoon. I imagine some have jobs to go to, and responsibilities beyond this tiresome waiting.
At the end of the end of Day Three, Grisham’s supporters gather in a prayer circle, asking God to give “the right answer”.
At least we want the same thing.
At the parkway entrance, the small white canopy is gone. No sign-toting supporters are seen. A few sprinkles fall from a gray sky with the sun struggling to peek through here and there.
At the justice complex entrance, a juror checks in through security, avoiding everyone’s gaze. Inside the courthouse hall, a few supporters talk quietly. Most of their sidelong glances at me have abated. Hazel, tired of the wait, has stayed home.
Grisham apparently tweeted that the jury is split, but as they are sequestered far from us with even the courtroom off limits, it’s impossible to know their thoughts.
He also posted that Judge Richardson was unfairly biased. (He has since removed that post). That sort of thing can result in a contempt of court charge. It appears that Richardson was annoyed with the needlessly slow pace, inexperience, and competence of Rannefeld.
For $1,000,000, if the NAFLGD actually has it, Grisham should’ve had Danny Burns or Gary Medlin from Fort Worth. Both are outstanding criminal defense attorneys who are known for getting their ducks in a row. Never go cheap when it comes to attorneys. I don’t even think he realized Rannefeld isn’t a criminal defense attorney.
I sit alone next to one of the pillars dividing the huge glass windows. The supporters carry on conversations about Richardson and his presumed bias. Suddenly, Grisham’s young daughter Hannah appears and shyly hands me an Open Carry Texas pamphlet.
“Umm…this is for you.”
She is about ten years old and truly beautiful, with a heart-shaped face, deep blue eyes, fair skin, long light brown hair, and a delicate sprinkle of freckles that enhance her winsomeness. She disappears as fast as she appeared.
I’m disgusted that Grisham would use his children this way. Children sent on adult errands. What cowardice in a “decorated veteran”.
Grisham never confronts me. He walks by quickly, once throwing out a sarcastic remark, but never stops to talk.
I thumb through the pamphlet. Interestingly, it suggests calling the non-emergency line of the police department if you intend to open carry in a certain area to avoid concerned citizen calls about a “man with a gun”. It also notes your behavior while open carrying is subject to the law. I wonder if Grisham read his own pamphlet.
Twice the jury appears and papers are exchanged with the judge. He doesn’t appear happy. The second time Kathy attempts to bodily block my view through courtroom door windows, but I slip around her. “You’re disgusting! “She spits. I ignore her. I don’t need to waste time swatting flies when I’m hunting big game.
I take a seat again near the book lady. I’m extremely tired. A buzzard glides closely by the huge windows. The book lady remarks “I’d go crazy by now” if she didn’t have something to read.
Curious lawyers from other courtrooms occasionally come by to check on the progress of the jury throughout the deliberation. Obviously the case has garnered attention.
Especially entertaining is a very tall, young, obese man who is an Army veteran. He talks constantly and loudly, looking straight ahead, oblivious to his audience’s response or interest. He tells amusing stories about his deployment as a mechanic, and as a mechanic stateside. He covers every topic imaginable, French women, gun laws, Obama, beer, and of course, open carry. He drove here from Michigan, and is a strong Grisham supporter.
At lunch break I sit quietly in the smoking section outside, indulging in my favorite vice originated by Sir Walter Raleigh. A young man named Mark in a dark pin-striped suit and white polo shirt approaches me and asks for a light. I acquiesce and he produces a silver cigarette case. I muse that such a case is usually accompanied by a silver lighter, and am wary.
He complains about his court case that is unresolved, and says that “a friend” is upstairs supporting Grisham. I’m noncommittal. Failing in his attempt to extract information, Mark leaves. I later find him wishing Grisham well in his trial that Mark has been following closely.
For a man whose specialty is intelligence, Grisham has employed a Keystone Kops crew of clumsy would-be spies. So far I’ve been a polite, if reserved, oyster. I marvel that one middle-aged, unremarkable woman should be the subject of his scrutiny. Grisham is convinced I’m a secret emissary of Michael Yon, but my research and observations are all my own. I just happen to live in Texas.
One man was very kind to me. He disagreed with Kathy’s behavior, and said that’s not what Open Carry Texas was about. He believed in Grisham, but disagreed with uncivil behavior. I thanked him for that.
Hannah plays handball on the oak paneled wall with the red ball. She looks at me and I smile. She smiles back, a lovely smile. It occurs to me I haven’t seen the Grisham children smile very much. I try to recall if I’ve seen Grisham show his children affection, and I’m stumped. Mostly I’ve seen him surrounded by his admirers, or absorbed in his smart phone.
Twice more the jury appears, papers are exchanged with the judge who appears increasingly irritated. Hopes are high, and then dashed with each appearance. Supporters are tired and nervous. The sound of toothbrushes tapping against cups could be heard. It’s getting late in the afternoon. Grisham states he will make no announcement at the verdict. I don’t believe him.
A wedding procession passes by for a courthouse marriage. The bride is a stunningly beautiful young Hispanic woman in a form-fitting pink suit and dangerously high stiletto heels. The groom is handsome in a black sports coat and slacks. They proceed slowly, as if in church, toward the courtroom to be married. The supporters cheer and clap upon their return.
Suddenly Rannefeld bursts out of the courtroom doors, announcing it was a hung jury. There were confusion and questions. “Did we win?” The initial clapping faded quickly, as did enthusiasm. Emily burst into tears. The supporters seemed to not absorb the full meaning of the mistrial. Grisham quickly tried to reassure them that it was okay.
The jury had been dismissed, and it was up to the prosecution to retry the case. Later that day the County Attorney set a new trial date of November 18.
On my way out, I spotted two stone-faced jurors exiting the building as fast as they decently could. To the left, all the supporters stood behind the Grisham family, toothbrushes held high, as several TV cameras recorded a very different spin on the verdict. Grisham played it off as a victory, with supporters all smiles. His family was not smiling however.
Too bad, because Hannah has such a pretty smile.
Later Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols announces the jury was split 5:1 for conviction. Retrials tend to favor the prosecution.
Likely a different judge will be requested by Grisham’s defense.
Grisham had already decided to pursue his civil suit against Temple Police Department even before the verdict.
But he won’t be using any of the $51,798 collected on his Indiegogo campaign.
Keilberg has once again pledged up to $1,000,000 from the NAFLGD, with Blue Rannefeld as chief counsel.
So what happened to all the money collected on Indiegogo?
Certainly his supporters thought they were funding a wrongly accused war hero living on “a soldier’s paycheck” to pay his legal expenses. It seems they were duped.
His appeal states that leftover money would go to gun rights groups or held in trust for other local soldiers “dealing with being illegally disarmed”, but how do they know? There is no proof as of yet.
Indiegogo only evaluates potentially fraudulent campaigns if a contributor complains. Once the money is disbursed, Indiegogo’s only recourse is to notify authorities.
All it takes is one complaint that the money was never used as intended.
I haven’t decided about attending Trial #2.
Since my perspective is different than the Grisham/Open Carry Texas party line, I expect to be most unwelcome.
But I’ll think about it.
Barbara Lawrence is a retired physician and Second Amendment supporter living in Texas.