A Greene County Criminal Court jury deliberated for about two hours on Friday afternoon before finding a Mohawk resident who had been charged with second-degree murder guilty of the lesser-included offense of criminally-negligent homicide.
Attorneys said the jury left the courtroom to begin deliberating about 11:20 a.m. and returned with its verdict shortly before 1:30 p.m.
In so doing, the jury of nine women and three men rejected the original charge of second-degree murder that had been placed against Ronald Lee Bible, 60, of 3740 Mount Hope Road, Mohawk.
However, the jurors recommended that Third Judicial District Criminal Court Judge John Dugger, at sentencing, impose a $1,500 fine on Bible.
He had been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the late-night July 1, 2007, shooting death of James David Branch outside Branch's Josie Road residence.
Bible will remain free on bond pending sentencing, which is set for 1 p.m. on May 24, Criminal Court Judge John Dugger announced after the jury was dismissed shortly after 1:30 p.m.
Assistant District Attorney Doug Godbee, who took part in prosecuting the case against Bible, said the criminally-negligent homicide charge is a "Class E felony" and carries a penalty of one to two years in prison upon conviction.
Judge Dugger told Bible on Friday afternoon that the court would set an appeal bond during his May 24 sentencing hearing.
In the meantime, the judge said, Bible can remain free on the bond set after he was indicted by a grand jury on the second-degree murder charge in January 2009.
Trial Began Monday
The trial had begun on Monday morning, with the jury being seated shortly after 10 a.m. Two alternate jurors, one man and one woman, also were chosen.
At about 11 a.m. Monday, Assistant District Attorney General Cecil Mills read to the jury the indictment that had been returned against Bible last year.
After Mills read the indictment, Judge Dugger asked how Bible wished to plead.
"Not guilty," defense attorney Douglas Payne replied emphatically.
In opening statements on Monday, Mills and Payne presented very different theories of how the July 1, 2007, fatal shooting took place.
Mills argued that the shooting was a murder in the second degree while Payne told the jury that his client had fired the fatal shot in self-defense.
The trial continued on Monday and Tuesday before a break on Wednesday so that Assistant District Attorney Mills could participate in a preliminary hearing for Ethan Self, 18, who is accused of first-degree murder in the shooting death earlier this year of his police officer father, Roger Self.
The Bible case continued on Thursday, with Judge Dugger adjourning court at 4:30 p.m. so jurors could be fresh to hear closing arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys on Friday morning.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Friday, Judge Dugger told defense and prosecution attorneys that they would have an hour per side to present their closing arguments to the jury.
Assistant District Attorney Mills was first to present a closing argument.
Defense Attorney Payne then presented the defense's nearly-hour-long response.
After Payne delivered his summation to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Doug Godbee spent about 30 minutes finishing the prosecution's final argument to the jury.
Judge Dugger then spent about 20 minutes reading his "charge" to the jury before releasing the jurors to begin deliberation.
During his closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Mills told the jury that during the trial he had attempted to "give a voice to a dead man." The statement was a reference to James David Branch, who had died after being shot by Ronald Bible.
Mills told the jury that Branch had been shot to death on his own property by Bible, who had come there late at night seeking to collect a debt.
"If the defendant (Bible) had stayed home, you and I would not be here three years later," Mills told the jury.
Mills defined second-degree murder as "the knowing killing of another person."
"The only question in this case is whether or not it was a knowing killing," Mills argued.
The assistant district attorney told the jury that the prosecution admitted that Bible had been struck with brass knuckles by Branch during a fight that took place in front of Branch's garage.
But Mills pointed out that the brass knuckles were found by Deputy Sheriff Michael Jones in one of Branch's trouser pockets after he was pronounced dead at the shooting scene and his body lay in an ambulance.
Mills also told the jury that Branch's widow, Karen Branch, had testified that Bible had shot her husband 15 to 20 minutes after a fight between the two men had ended.
The fatal shot, Karen Branch had testified, had been fired by Bible from inside his pickup truck as James David Branch stood outside the vehicle, Mills told the jury on Friday.
"You can't shoot a man who is not attacking you," Mills argued emphatically to the jury.
Mills also told the jury that Karen Branch had consistently given authorities the same version of events since the fatal shooting took place.
Defense attorney Payne used his final argument to the jury to attack the credibility of Karen Branch, the only eyewitness to the July 1, 2007, shooting.
He also argued that Bible had come to the Branch residence late on the night of July 1, 2007, after receiving a telephone invitation to do so.
His client, Payne told the jury, had seen the late-night visit as a "last chance" to collect the $100 that Branch had borrowed from him earlier.
But after Bible reached the Branch residence, he exited his pickup truck and was struck in the back of the head by something "hard and heavy" and knocked to the ground.
Payne noted that Bible was 58 years old and weighed only 160 pounds while Branch was "nearly half his age" and weighed 190 pounds.
The defense attorney also labeled the brass knuckles that had been found on Branch's body "a deadly weapon" and noted that his client had suffered multiple injuries to his head and other parts of his body during the July 1, 2007, incident.
Payne also told the jury that Bible had pleaded with Branch to "let me go" after suffering what the defense attorney termed a "vicious beating."
Once Bible had struggled back inside his pickup truck, Payne told the jury, the vehicle's dome light was illuminated, revealing a 9-mm pistol lying in the passenger seat.
Payne reminded the jury that Bible had testified on Thursday that a struggle between Branch and himself for control of the pistol had begun after Branch saw the pistol and attempted to enter the truck's cab.
At one point, Payne said, both men had had their hands on the pistol before it fired, sending a bullet through Branch's body as he lay atop Bible inside the truck's cab.
'Red Herrings' Claimed
During his closing argument to the jury, defense attorney Payne accused the prosecution of using a series of "red herrings" to distract attention from weaknesses in its case.
He defined a red herring as "something that draws attention away from the central issue."
Among the alleged red herrings employed by the state during the trial, Payne argued to the jury, was a claim that Karen Branch could not read despite the fact that she had testified that she was a certified nursing assistant.
By claiming she could not read, Payne argued, Karen Branch avoided being questioned about written statements she had given authorities about the case.
In response, Assistant District Attorney Doug Godbee told the jury later that Karen Branch could read only at a second-grade level, which was not well enough to be able to read the written statements.
Also in his closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Godbee told the jury that Karen Branch suffered from dyslexia.
Godbee also argued that the defense had tried to confuse the issue by arguing about "a lot of stuff that doesn't have anything to do with the case."
Concerning where Branch was when he was shot, Godbee reminded the jury that a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation expert had testified that Branch had no gunshot residue on his hands.
That, Godbee said, refuted the defense claim that Branch had been struggling for control of the pistol when it was fired.
Godbee also reminded the jury that the TBI expert had testified that tests had shown that Branch was between two and four feet from the gun when it discharged.
That, Godbee argued, meant that Branch likely was outside the truck when the fatal shot was fired.
Concerning Karen Branch's having consistently told the same version of how the shooting took place, Godbee told the jury that "she tells the same story because it's true."
Godbee also told the jury that the case was not self-defense. "It's second-degree murder, pure and simple," he said.