BY KEN LITTLE
A Hawkins County jury's decision to convict Ethan A. Self of first-degree murder Thursday in the shooting death of his father Roger Self was met with shock and disbelief by many in the courtroom.
Lead prosecutor Tony Clark said Thursday the jury made the right decision.
Defense lawyer Herbert Moncier said Friday that the first-degree murder verdict, which resulted in a life prison sentence for Self, was not what many of the young man's supporters expected.
Moncier assisted lead defense lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers and his daughter, Jenny Coques Rogers, with the case. John Rogers declined to comment on the verdict Thursday and did not return phone calls on Friday.
"We were very disappointed in the verdict," Moncier said in a telephone interview from his Knoxville law office.
Presiding Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood took the unusual step of having six alternates sit in during the trial.
The seven-woman, five-man panel that rendered the first-degree murder verdict remained intact throughout the eight-day trial, however, and none of alternates was required to serve.
The alternates were released by Blackwood before the jury began deliberations Wednesday afternoon. Several alternates returned Thursday to hear the verdict.
A 'DIFFERENT VIEW'
"The alternates we spoke with certainly had a completely different view of the case, and it's striking the jurors would come to a different conclusion. It's certainly a very unfortunate result," Moncier said.
The life sentence requires that Ethan Self, 21, serve at least 51 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
Moncier echoed what he told the jury during his closing argument on Wednesday.
"The tragedy continues for Roger Self's family and for Ethan Self," he said.
The defense presented witnesses and evidence to support the contention that Ethan Self did not intentionally fire the Glock service weapon that caused the fatal head wound to Greeneville police Sgt. Roger Self, 46, in the family's Love Street house.
The shooting occurred on March 24, 2010.
Self admitted his responsibility for his father's death the next day, after initially trying to make the death appear to be related to a burglary, and throwing the pistol into a pond.
'BASED ON THE LAW'
Through defense witnesses, and through Self's own testimony in statements and a video interview with a state-retained psychologist that was screened for the jury in the courtroom, defense attorneys pointed to what they said was a pattern of long-term physical and mental abuse of Ethan Self by Roger Self.
Clark, the prosecutor, said Thursday that the jury did its job and was not distracted by the allegations of abuse, or by testimony by a defense witness that Ethan Self had post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I think the jury looked at all the evidence and they made a decision based on the law and not sympathy," Clark said.
The jury had the option of finding Self not guilty, finding him guilty of first-degree murder, or convicting him of a lesser crime, including second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, or negligent homicide.
BELIEVES SHOOTING WAS ACCIDENT
Moncier's view of the trial outcome is, of course, sharply different from Clark's.
"Obviously, I believe (because it was) an accidental discharge of the weapon, it would not have been a premeditated murder," Moncier said.
Moncier accepts the verdict even though he may not agree with the outcome of the trial.
"It's very unfortunate, but that's our jury system," he said. "It was an attentive jury, but you cannot read a jury's mind."
The Knoxville attorney said he will not play a part in the appeal process.
If Rogers files a motion for a new trial, the motion must be filed within 30 days.
Blackwood, who was appointed as a special judge after Third Judicial District Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr. unexpectedly recused himself from the case in April, would rule on any motion for a new trial.
If the motion is denied, a further notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
During the Self trial, Blackwood denied at least four defense motions for a mistrial.
One was filed after a state-hired psychologist who testified for the defense offered an opinion on cross-examination that Ethan Self intentionally fired the gun at his father.
"That was totally inappropriate, and it wasn't allowed by the judge," Moncier said.
When the defense immediately and strongly objected to the psychologist's statement, the jury was excused from the courtroom while the point was argued.
When the jurors were called back to the courtroom, Judge Blackwood instructed them to disregard the statement by the psychologist.
Other motions for a mistrial that the judge denied involved evidence presented by prosecution witnesses that was not provided to the defense before trial, Moncier said.
REMAINS IN CUSTODY
Self remains held in the Hawkins County jail.
The trial was held in Rogersville with a jury drawn from Hawkins County residents.
In rulings months before the trial began, judges granted separate motions by Rogers to move the trial from Greene County, and then to pick a jury from another county.
According to one defense motion, excessive pretrial publicity would have denied Ethan Self the right to receive a fair trial in Greene County.