by Barbara Lawrence, witness to trial
26 November 2013
Two days before I left to attend the retrial of Master Sergeant CJ Grisham, I received my annual National Rifle Association membership card in the mail. It was a reminder that though MSG Grisham has sought and received considerable attention and support regarding his charge of “interfering with duties of a public servant,” the NRA wants nothing to do with him.
That is not surprising.
He claims to have been on an Eagle Scout hike with his son Chris within Temple, Texas, city limits on March 16, 2013. What is unusual is that he carried an AR-15, while having a cell phone camera within ready access.
This is likely to excite attention in an area that has seen two previous mass shootings: Fort Hood in 2009 and Killeen in 1991.
When a concerned citizen calls police to inform them of the suspicious pair, Sergeant Steve Ermis is dispatched to investigate. He is met with uncooperative defiance as he attempts to disarm Grisham, who is quick to video the incident. Grisham is charged with “rudely displaying a weapon” and “resisting arrest”. Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols later changed it to “interfering with the duties of a public servant.”
The first trial on October 15 ended in a mistrial after 16 hours of deliberation with 5:1 favoring conviction.
This is where it gets weird.
Following the trial a YouTube video is posted with Matthew Short of DontComply.com, claiming to make a cell phone call to juror L.J. Cotterill, a corrections officer who voted for conviction. However the voice heard on the cell phone’s speaker is clearly identical to CJ Grisham’s.
I heard Mr. Cotterill’s voice during voir dire and have certainly heard Grisham’s voice. It is not Mr. Cotterill. It is the voice of Grisham himself.
In the phone call “Cotterill” goes on to complain about the limitations of the laws they were allowed to consider, and to discuss jury deliberations at great length.
It is not known if the real Mr. Cotterill was aware of this masquerade. Or if any of the phone call contents were actually true. But it is bizarre.
It’s a gorgeous warm day driving to Temple, with the red oaks blazing autumn crimson and a strong breeze buffeting tractor trailers on I-35. I pass through Waco, home to the Texas Ranger Museum, nestled close to the Brazos River.
These Rangers are Texas’ finest law enforcement officers, not the baseball players, and woe unto you if you have one on your trail. They are very professional, intelligent and dogged. They have an uncanny sixth sense for tracking and solving difficult cases.
Peace officers from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) sometimes become Texas Rangers, usually with an average of 20 years’ experience under their belt. They are easily recognized by their crisp gray uniforms with blue leg stripe and epaulets, round blue badge over the left chest, and smartly blocked gray cowboy hats.
In an earlier dispatch I had mentioned that Grisham had interfered with the arrest of two revolver-carrying men in Austin by sitting in front of the DPS troopers’ truck. The troopers simply ignored him by driving around.
But on Veterans Day, November 11, it was different. Grisham stood on the Capitol steps in Austin prepared to give a speech to his Open Carry Texas (OCT) followers, while open carrying a revolver. An official Veterans Day ceremony was being held on the opposite end of the Capitol.
Three times he was told by DPS officers to leave the premises due to no weapons being allowed on the Capitol grounds. Each time he argued.
He looked surprised as he was told he was under arrest. They didn’t respond when he told them the revolver was a toy.
No bargaining. No cajoling. No negotiating. Cuffed and whisked away. The DPS doesn’t play.
His OCT followers shoved cell phone cameras in the faces of granite-jawed DPS officers, reading off legal documents like jailhouse lawyers, mocking them profanely and calling them clichéd epithets. Statist. Thug. Bully.
Open Carry Texas is becoming the Code Pink of the Second Amendment.
When four members of the anti-gun group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense (MDA) met November 9th at a Blue Mesa Grille restaurant in Arlington, Texas, forty OCT members gathered in the parking lot displaying their long rifles. The women were simply having lunch to discuss membership and activities.
I have to put myself in these women’s shoes, whether or not I agree with their policies. They are women who are very afraid of what they call “assault rifles”. They aren’t comfortable around guns. They can only think of Sandy Hook and Columbine. They are terrified. Other restaurant patrons are scared also.
Grisham tweets that it makes him laugh. Later, on the OCT blog a semi-apology is posted with the offer of a $100 Blue Mesa Grille gift certificate to MDA.
Then the blog post and offer disappeared. Grisham dismissed it as a joke.
Later he posts that members of the OCT board wanted to extend the apology, but he disagreed with it.
So he fired the board.
I negotiate the treacherous highway construction through Temple and take the exit to highway 190 toward Fort Hood, a huge Army base that is a city unto itself. I’ve been there once before to pick up two German Shepherds belonging to an Army sergeant back in 2008. I fostered them for a year while he was in Iraq.
It’s there that Grisham is stationed, but seems to have ample time to follow his own pursuits.
He appeared at an open carry rally in San Antonio on October 19 in full dress uniform. To appear in uniform is to represent the Army, and is not allowed at any political demonstration under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) regulations.
He follows this appearance by posting on his Twitter account, “Sieg heil, politzai! (sic).”
Apparently a man wearing swastika insignia was present at the rally. Associating with extremist groups is also in violation of UCMJ.
As mentioned in a previous dispatch, the Grisham family attended a large gun show in Tulsa, Oklahoma the weekend before Veterans Day. But according to Article 92 of the UCMJ he may not travel more than 250 miles away pending the outcome of this trial.
Tulsa is close to 500 miles from Temple.
Most extraordinarily, according to his own Facebook posts, he has chosen to run for political office and made himself Chairman of the Libertarian Party in Bell County. He posted that he applied to run for State Representative of District 55 in Bell County, a position currently held by Ralph Sheffield (R). (Sheffield is known for being a Second Amendment conservative).
This is in direct violation of Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 and Army Regulation AR 600-20 as well as other policies that state that an active duty soldier may not seek or hold public office.
The UCMJ appears to be flexible as a rubber band to Grisham.
And all this has happened just since the mistrial in October.
As I pull into the Bell County Justice Complex parking area, I see no sign-waving supporters. No camera crews or TV reporters are here yet.
As I pass through security, I recognize a couple of OCT supporters. This time there are no sidelong glances at me. They know who I am and avoid eye contact as we proceed upstairs to the long oak-paneled hall with enormous glass windows opposite.
I have other things on my mind. Follow the money.
It’s been established that Grisham raised $51,798 on Indiegogo, and yet had the National Association For Legal Gun Defense (NAFLGD) footing the bill for his first trial, and pledging “up to $1,000,000” for his defense in his civil trial against the Temple Police Department. It had been assumed that they would cover his second trial after the mistrial also.
But something went south in a hurry after the Austin arrest.
Larry Keilberg, the director of the NAFLGD, suddenly removed Grisham from his website, including the CJ Grisham Philanthropy Fund and photo of Grisham.
He refused to represent Grisham in the Austin arrest for “criminal trespassing.” Perhaps he is tired of being the insurance company whose client keeps purposely crashing his car into trees.
Then one day before this trial, Grisham tweets another request for yet more money to cover the cost of this trial and his civil suit. Apparently the “up to” on the $1,000,000 is the operative phrase.
But looking back on the first trial, I can’t recall anything extraordinarily expensive. There were no expert witnesses or investigators testifying, no elaborate computer models or 3D displays, or anything else that would devour a $51,000 war chest.
As I mull this over, I approach Auxiliary Courtroom No. 1 and turn around to the windows behind me. CJ and Emily Grisham are seated a couple of chairs apart. Emily is in slacks and blouse, Grisham is in his ACUs, the camouflage uniform. A pale, heavyset woman with thinning curly blond hair sits next to Emily, occupied with handwork. Both Grishams look glum and are immediately annoyed at my appearance.
Grisham asks me if I won a Pulitzer for fiction yet. Emily is angry at my remark that all three children were taken out of school, because Chris was subpoenaed. I think, that doesn’t explain the other two, but say nothing and let them talk. She is also angry that I said no affection was seen between Grisham and the children, and that they never smiled (both were true).
I see no children with them today. Perhaps the Grishams are sensitive to appearances. Or maybe their children just happened to be in school.
Larry Keilberg has also refused to pay for the first trial key witness transcripts. The Temple Daily Telegram published that the cost of transcripts would be $1250, total, but the court reporter never received payment.
Grisham’s attorney Blue Rannefeld even called Temple Mayor Danny Dunn, ostensibly to intervene, but the mayor declined to get involved.
It was rumored that the prosecution would have a game warden testifying that no wild animals of significance lived in the area where the incident took place. Grisham anxiously tweeted for his own expert witness to counter the prosecution’s. It was part of his claim that he carried the AR-15 for protection against the unlikely feral hog or puma.
With this in mind I asked the Grishams why they had to provide their own expert witness. Grisham minimized it, saying he had one.
When asked why Keilberg wouldn’t pay for the critical trial transcripts, Emily sarcastically replied, “Why don’t you go ask him?”
So I did.
Keilberg was well dressed in a dark olive sport coat and tan slacks, complimenting his silver hair. When I later get the chance to pose the question to him, he looks at me, and then stares into the distance, compressing his lips slightly.
He says nothing. And will say nothing.
Whenever I am talking to someone who is not a Grisham supporter, especially if they look professional or official, I catch him staring at us.
The Grishams end their conversation with me by saying, “You’re not welcome here,” but I knew that already. They did concede that I had the right to be there, but I knew that too.
I enter the courtroom for voir dire and squeeze into the back row reserved for spectators. The right side has Grisham supporters, the left has everyone else.
The Lady in Black sits next to me, and I think that other than her complexion being slightly flushed, it’s much smoother than I remember. Maybe she was knitting her brows in greater worry the first time. I introduce myself and tell her that people are curious to know what her interest in this trial is.
She simply says, “I’m just here to watch the trial,” and doesn’t invite further conversation. She wears a knitted black poncho and black slacks.
I leave her alone and turn my attention to other spectators.
Joy Schumacher, a freelance artist, is quietly starting a sketch of the defense team in pastels. She is retired with silvery hair, a floral jacket and a keen eye.
Blue Rannefeld is at the defense table with an attractive, professionally dressed blond woman who he later identifies as his wife Carol. He is wearing a dark blue suit, florid complexion and has slicked-back dark brown hair. I recall an attorney telling me he is, or was, a debt collector, which I verified.
One Grisham supporter and one reporter are present. The Temple Daily Telegram (TDT) reporter is Alex Wukman.
Deborah McKeon, the TDT reporter who was very cozy with Grisham and his supporters, will not be covering this trial. I did note that she seemed inordinately friendly with OCT beyond what would be expected of a journalist trying to cover a lengthy trial. I did not notice her sitting anywhere but with them. She ended up accepting “friends” on Facebook with several members of OCT, including Grisham.
McKeon is an older heavyset woman with long graying hair, and was often found with OCT members clustered about her sharing their opinions, wanted or unwanted. She gave an air of exaggerated self-importance, the way modern journalists do when they feel that the news must be used as a tool to shape opinion rather than to report the unvarnished facts.
Her articles are carefully crafted to lend legitimacy to Grisham’s behavior, to obscure the 5:1 ratio in favor of conviction in the mistrial, and to cast suspicion on Ermis’ and the City of Temple’s actions. In her November 22 article for the TDT, she was kind enough to publish the website on which Grisham is raising money for his legal bills.
I was rather surprised to see Keilberg here after he threw the Grishams (and Rannefeld) under the bus, but apparently he’s responsible for the smooth running of the audio-visual equipment. In this case it consists entirely of a VCR and TV for the dashcam video.
Grisham is out of sorts today, serious and pre-occupied. There is no schmoozing the crowd today, no good luck charm, no nervous energy. It’s as if his mind isn’t even on the trial, but elsewhere. That could be just fatigue from the strain of a retrial, but clearly his heart isn’t in it today.
The bailiff chats with Keilberg as the defense and prosecution attorneys disappear into the judge’s chambers. The jury pool hasn’t arrived yet, but is working on questionnaires. A supporter stares at me. I nod back. He looks away. The atmosphere seems much quieter.
The young brunette woman with a plethora of tattoos has arrived. She was loud and defiant at the previous trial, showing off ink with short skirts, but now has covered her legs with black opaque stockings, and bobbed her long hair. She talks in hushed tones to a female supporter.
The attorneys return from the judge’s chambers.
Lead prosecutor is John Gauntt, Jr. in a dark gray suit, wire-rim glasses and slightly graying dark brown hair. He is actually 40 but appears more mature in his relaxed, confident demeanor.
His co-counsel is Assistant County Attorney Richard Lazott, who later identifies himself as a former Marine, and he does remind one of a Devil Dog: fit and solid, regarding me with wary deep blue eyes when I later speak with him. He has close cropped gray-sprinkled brown hair with an occasional misbehaving cowlick in the back.
The jury pool enters, quickly and efficiently seated by the bailiff. They are curious and alert, taking in the defense and prosecution participants, as well as spectators. There are approximately 45 of them.
Judge Neel Richardson briskly enters the courtroom and we all rise as commanded. He held court for 30 years in Harris County, the Houston area, presiding over misdemeanor cases. Now retired, he acts as visiting judge. Grisham had sought unsuccessfully to have Richardson recuse himself.
Richardson was furious at Emily and CJ Grisham for discussing details of the ongoing first trial in front of their son Chris, a defense witness. Apparently Richardson considered a “contempt of court” charge against Grisham, but did not do so. His choice words for the Grishams caused Rannefeld to have his own outburst in court, displaying a toothbrush which Rannefeld intended to carry to jail with him if he himself were found in contempt. Richardson had ignored him.
Gauntt begins the voir dire, questioning them in his low-pitched, rolling Texas drawl. He can give the impression of a man that it would be easy to underestimate if you weren’t paying attention. His genial, low-key manner could catch a witness off guard. I’ve seen him strike suddenly, like an arrow zinging from a crossbow. It is surprising and impressive.
At first only five potential jurors admitted to hearing about the case, but as questioning progressed, a little less than half recognized it. Several had formed an opinion about it. One woman admitted bias for leniency.
One man in uniform said he had served with Grisham in Afghanistan, working under him, and felt he couldn’t be objective. He was dismissed.
During this time Grisham seems oddly disinterested, or at least doesn’t focus on the jurors-to-be.
When Rannefeld questions the jury pool he stumbles upon a woman who was a police officer in Killeen for 15 years. “Have you ever heard of ‘contempt by cop’?” he asks. In other words, a suspect makes a police officer so angry, the officer knows he can’t make the charge stick, but arrests the guy anyway to “make him go along for the ride.”
Unfazed, the woman asserts that her department made every attempt to be crisp and professional. Police who abused their authority were handled by the Internal Affairs Division.
Furthermore it was important, she explained, to maintain their credibility as a police officer.
She also knew how hard it was to turn a charge into a conviction.
“He wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t some fact that put him here.”
That’s what’s known as expert witness testimony from the jury.
Rannefeld asks another man if police have to treat everyone the same. Surprisingly he says no. He explains, “You don’t get snippy. You use the chain of command” to settle your disputes.
None of the jury pool had any problems with guns, hunting or expected Second Amendment issues.
Gauntt summarizes the incident in a calm, measured voice. Grisham showed “criminal negligence,” interfered with Ermis’ investigation, failed to comply with commands, grabbed his weapon, and refused to surrender his hands to be cuffed.
He defines “criminal negligence” as “the risk is such that it is apart from what an ordinary, reasonable person would exercise.” If the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly acted, the criteria for “criminal negligence” are satisfied.
Richardson cups his face, watching the prosecution alertly. He must be in his seventies, with gray hair parted on one side and deep lines in his face. He wears no glasses unless reading documents.
Gauntt explains the presumption of innocence and the right of police to stop someone who wasn’t doing anything wrong.
When he asked if it was okay for police to take measures to protect themselves, hands shot up. Likewise when he asked if police have a dangerous job.
Rannefeld introduces his wife Carol at the defense table and announces today is their 13th wedding anniversary. He gives his age as 41. Doing the math, I calculate that he received his law degree from Texas Wesleyan University (TWU) at age 26 or so. Located in Fort Worth, it is a place where students may attend night school to complete their law degrees.
He questions prospective jurors on the definitions of “substantial”, “unjustifiable”, and “gross deviation”. He polls them on who has taken any law enforcement classes. There are a fair number of people who are equivocal on their ability to be fair, impartial, consider the evidence, and be guided by the law.
Grisham looks fatigued with the process. Richardson glances at the clock, head tilted over reading glasses.
Rannefeld then launches into what can only be described as the “We The People” speech. I recall it ending, “We the people stand against our government, and tell our government what to do and what not to do.” A single soft clap was heard near the back.
Voir dire ends and jury impanelling begins. The attorneys and Grisham leave. There is a long wait process. This jury pool seems to have more conflicts with potential bias than the first trial.
An hour crawls by. I notice that the Book Lady isn’t here this time. She attended every day of the first trial, always absorbed in a novel. A matronly presence, she was always neatly dressed and coifed with no hint of impatience or weariness.
The jury pool members are restless and bored, wanting to be released. Every unusual noise raises their hopes for freedom: court reporter movements, doors opening, or security codes punched into the rear jury and judge chambers. The bailiff kindly allows bathroom breaks.
Finally, the attorneys and judge return to impanel the jury. There will be no cries of bias this time. Selection has been very careful.
The jury selected is three men and three women. There are two black and one white man. There are two white and one Hispanic woman. Most appear to be in their thirties to late forties. A multicultural dream jury.
Later I nickname them the “Jolly Jury” because they have the unnerving habit of laughing just prior to entering the courtroom. Except before the verdict.
All witnesses enter the courtroom and Richardson invokes The Rule, meaning that trial testimony may not be discussed among participants or with/among witnesses, and all are sworn in.
Following the lunch break the courtroom has more seating with the jury pool gone. Spectators scatter out on both sides. The Lady in Black sits far from me. Schumacher is as close as she can get in the left front row, the sound of her pastel chalk softly scuffing across paper.
Emily sits in the row behind the defense table. This time there is no legal pad in evidence, no note-taking, no conferring with Grisham or Rannefeld. She rubs her head and temple, often looking at the floor or straight ahead. She rarely talks with Grisham. The heavyset woman sits next to her, presumably as moral support. I count eight supporters.
Lazott presents the prosecution’s opening statement. He has noticed Grisham’s Army uniform, and mentions that he himself was in the Marines for eight years. It may be to counter Grisham’s use of his military status to influence the jury.
Lazott smoothly summarizes the events of the incident. Two people are walking along the road. One has an “assault rifle.” An alarmed citizen calls. Ermis investigates. He finds the rifle has a loaded magazine. He tries to disarm Grisham until he can ascertain his intent. There is a struggle and Grisham resists being disarmed and detained.
Rannefeld counters in his opening statement that it was not an “assault rifle” but a regular rifle. The concerned caller didn’t call 911 but the police station directly. He faults Ermis for not “asking for the weapon.” Grisham resisted, he affirms, because his weapon was seized, “like someone grabbing my tie.”
Privately I think, most ties don’t fire .223 ammo.
He goes into a soliloquy of “can police just grab someone, etc.” until Gauntt objects to him as being argumentative. Richardson sustains.
He ends with the familiar story of digging a septic tank with his grandfather, a retired police officer. Rannefeld states that the reason he’s here is that Grisham is doing everything for his son that his grandfather did for him. His grandfather had told him that cops lie and plant evidence when they get into a tight spot.
The first prosecution witness is the caller alerting the Temple Police Department, Lisa Wilkerson. On March 16 she spotted two people walking on highway 36 at Tower Road near the airport. One man had a “long black gun,” holding it with his hands, across his chest. She called the police department’s direct line to report the incident. She noted that homes, businesses, a fire station, and the airport were close by, and the two appeared to be heading in the direction of the airport.
Rannefeld pointed out that in her call she only said that it was “odd,” not alarming to see the two. But Wilkerson answered affirmatively when Gauntt asked her if she was indeed alarmed.
Rannefeld also faulted Wilkerson for not calling 911, but she simply said it was always her habit to call the direct line, having used it numerous times in her work regarding placement of foster children through the courts.
She was then asked if she was alarmed by the man or the gun. She replied somewhat confusingly, “The gun, because I didn’t know the intent of the man.”
She is released and the prosecution prepares to call Ermis as their next witness.
During Ermis’ testimony Grisham appears strangely detached, staring into the floor as if consumed by other thoughts. He doesn’t appear to take notes. Keilberg rocks slightly in his chair, stone-faced. Emily rubs her forehead slowly, looking down. Only Rannefeld appears attentive.
If Ermis is feeling the stress of the trial, he hides it well.
He takes the stand in full dark blue uniform, his wide, black leather belt creaking as he does so. He is well over six feet and broad-shouldered with light brown hair and mustache. He has the same easy, central Texas drawl as others, unhurried and deep.
Gauntt elicits background information from Ermis. He has been a police officer for thirty-plus years, the majority of it in Temple. His community activities include Boy Scouts, karate and various school functions. Currently he is in the patrol division.
On the day in question he received a call of two individuals on highway 36, one with a “big gun.” In the general area were a city park, Tarver Elementary School, Holy Trinity School, a fire station, Dynacor (which rebuilds helicopters), and Scott & White Continued Care Center.
He located the two, finding Grisham and his son Chris walking in the road. He called for them to stop and come to him, which only Grisham did. Chris stayed back. Though technically they were in violation of the traffic offense “pedestrian in roadway,” Ermis’ primary interest was in investigating the firearms call.
Gauntt elicited that Ermis had seen dove hunters with shotguns in the fields around Temple before, if such acreage was zoned as agricultural, but Ermis had never seen anyone carry a rifle on the road before. Hunting from the roadway is illegal.
Ermis’ concern was that it was a “rude display of a weapon,” defined as “calculated to alarm.” He instructed Grisham to keep his hands away from the rifle, to which Grisham complied.
Ermis identified the gun as being an AR-15 fastened to a quick release clip buckled in front to Grisham’s backpack. It was butt up, barrel down. The rifle holds .223 ammo, which could pierce Ermis’ bullet-resistant vest.
Even if Ermis had had sufficient body armor, a fired .223 round from the AR would knock him to the ground.
Touching the magazine, Ermis determined that the rifle held a P-mag, or polymer magazine, and contained several live rounds, eliminating the possibility that it was Airsoft.
Not knowing if it had a chambered round, not knowing Grisham’s intent, and knowing it would take less than a second to be shot, Ermis decided to disarm him and investigate further.
During his testimony the jury alternates between watching Ermis intently and taking notes, heads bobbing up and down. A couple of them look curiously at Grisham and his supporters.
Grisham doesn’t acknowledge them.
There is a short break to set up the dashcam video. I see the first smile from Grisham today. He and Emily chat briefly. Ermis yawns deeply without sound. A few spectators stretch. It’s getting toward mid-afternoon and the courtroom benches can be unforgiving to our derrieres.
Once again the TV screen is tilted toward the attorneys, jury, Grisham and judge. We can hear the audio but the video isn’t accessible (The dashcam video has since been posted on YouTube by OCT).
As the video is played one female juror watches Grisham closely almost the entire time. After all, she’ll have plenty of time to view it in the jury room. She seems intent on gauging his reaction.
Grisham’s reaction is quite different this time. There is no cockiness or mirth. Rather than swaying side to side in his chair as before, he sits largely motionless. He seems to stare through the screen, biting his lip or cheek in thought. Once he mouths the words to his dialogue on screen, shaking his head. He glances away from the video. He chews a nail.
There is a sidelong glance from Rannefeld to the jury. Gauntt takes notes. Emily holds the side of her head and looks at the floor. Ermis shoots one quick glance at the jury. There is head-shaking and tsk-tsk from supporters. Richardson ignores the video and writes. The Lady in Black and Tukman, the TDT reporter, are seated at the far left and straining to catch a glimpse. Ermis furrows his brow once while watching.
At the point where Ermis is having a discussion with Sergeant Thomas Menix, the shift supervisor, the jury struggles to hear their conversation through the wind noise crashing across their microphones.
Gauntt turns off the video after the arrest, but Rannefeld insists on having the entire tape played through the trip to jail in order to show the jury how few homes were in the immediate area.
What’s notable is the only sounds are the hum of the police cruiser’s engine and the rare crackle of the radio dispatcher. By this time Grisham is no longer performing for his own cell phone camera, long ago shut off, sputtering outrage and threat of civil suit. He is completely quiet.
After several minutes of the silent ride to jail, Richardson interrupts abruptly, “Gentlemen, what are we doing here? Is there anything relevant?”
The video providentially malfunctions and comes to a halt.
Gauntt resumes questioning Ermis regarding discrepancies in the initial incident report he made on March 16 and the supplemental report done ten days later after reviewing the dashcam video.
The main bone of contention was Ermis’ statement that he had asked Grisham for his weapon, which was not borne out in the dashcam video. Ermis maintained that he wrongly recalled that he had, while Rannefeld simply said that he lied about it.
This concept of a lone police officer facing a man with a weapon of superior fire power whose intent is unknown, having to ask politely for his rifle, seems a bit absurd.
The AR-15 in question was produced. A cord was tied to its carrying handle, and looped around Ermis’ neck. The rifle dangled in the same position as Grisham had been carrying it. Gauntt then asked him to demonstrate how fast it would take to fire the rifle from the chest-front position.
Ermis snapped the AR barrel up in fire position in less than a second.
This demonstration was not lost on the jury. Their eyes widen.
Grisham looked incredulous, smiled and looked away.
I don’t know why. The chest-front position is how soldiers often carry their weapons when anticipating combat. That is what combat veterans tell me. But one must have been in combat to know this.
Grisham’s previous claim to have taken out an Iraqi squad with a 9mm pistol and hand grenade has not been supported by the Bronze Star with Valor citation he received. An NCOER document he posted claiming the same is an unauthenticated draft copy that could have been written by anybody.
Gauntt passes the witness to the defense.
Rannefeld has improved over his halting, awkward, and frankly amateurish last appearance in court. His inexperience in criminal law was woefully apparent and brought down the wrath of Judge Richardson upon him. His outbursts were embarrassing and unprofessional.
This time he is more confident and prepared.
He again presses the issue of “I asked him for his weapon.” Ermis again explains that he thought he had, but after reviewing the dashcam video, realized he hadn’t and so noted in his supplemental report.
In the dashcam video Grisham can be heard screaming profanities at Ermis, denying that Ermis had asked for the weapon.
There was a long discussion by Rannefeld of Ermis’ creating a “command presence”, the object of which seemed to be that it could make Grisham nervous. Presumably that would exonerate Grisham’s pugnacious and belligerent behavior. The repetitive questioning sparked an objection from Gauntt that Ermis had already answered the question sufficiently, and it was sustained.
I find it difficult to follow Rannefeld’s thinking because of the repetitive and somewhat haphazard line of questioning. Gauntt’s train of thought tends to be organized and progressive, building on each previous question in a logical way.
Rannefeld pressed Ermis to admit that the way Grisham carried the AR-15 in “barrel down” position was safe. He asked if Ermis looked for a bulge in Grisham’s clothing (Grisham’s pricey concealed .45). Grisham did not reveal he was “conceal-carrying” until asked during search.
Somehow it was important that though Chris Grisham was guilty of a traffic offense (“pedestrian in roadway”), he was not charged. Nor was Grisham.
The jury watches more than writes. Grisham is more attentive to his attorney but rarely takes notes.
“Are you willing to use your weapon?” Rannefeld asks. Only if the situation requires the use of deadly force, Ermis replies.
“Is it ever right to resist arrest?”
There are gasps from Grisham’s supporters. They are indignant and outraged.
Ermis is quite right though. Whether the charge is just or unjust, the roadway, sidewalk, barroom, or bedroom is not a courtroom. Any resisting is just that. Resisting arrest. Settle your case in court, not with the police.
“Is it right to use any force?”
“No, only reasonable force.”
What follows is a slow, laborious dissection of what “reasonable force” is, with Ermis continually maintaining that reasonable force is the minimal force necessary to gain control of a suspect.
Rannefeld also suggested that Ermis placed Grisham in peril by pulling the AR over Grisham’s head, to which Ermis recoiled incredulously. Rannefeld also insinuated that microphone distortion heard on dashcam video was perhaps caused by Menix and Ermis covering them, rather than the exuberant March wind.
Neither suggestion was met with much enthusiasm.
Trying another tack, Rannefeld emphasizes that Grisham was no threat to anyone.
“There was no reason to believe MSG Grisham was doing anything harmful.”
“I don’t know that.”
“He told you he was on a hike.”
“I’ve had criminals lie to me before.”
“But there was no reason to believe he was lying.”
“I have no way of knowing that.”
Judge Richardson glances at the clock and clears his throat. It’s getting close to 5:00pm and he likes his court to end punctually.
The issue of initial charges being changed from “rudely displaying a weapon” and “resisting arrest” to “interfering with the duties of a public servant” are brought up again by Rannefeld.
This issue is getting tiresome.
The charges were changed at the discretion of the County Attorney Jim Nichols, not Ermis, for reasons known only to Nichols. Yet Rannefeld plods ahead, haranguing Ermis for this matter beyond his control.
Ermis does believe Grisham “rudely displayed a weapon” and “resisted arrest,” but he doesn’t call the shots.
It is like yelling at the mailman for bringing you bills.
Rannefeld passes the witness and Richardson adjourns court till 9:00am the next day.
It’s still a warm, sunny day as I arrive at the large concrete and glass Justice Complex. It is half-moon shaped with the entrance in the center. The American and Texas flags outside are whipped by a brisk wind, their metal rings clapping against the tall pole.
My friend Hazel has joined me today as a courtroom observer, always much more fashionably put together than me. Her ornate leather belt with metal adornments always sends the metal detector into frenzy.
Just outside the courtroom Grisham squats, tapping on his smart phone. He shoots a quick side glance at me. He is wearing his Class B uniform: dark slacks, white short sleeve shirt with medals and epaulets.
Emily is not here. More supporters are here today, about twelve. James Everard is here, talking cheerily and being friendly to all.
Trial resumes with Ermis being requestioned by Gauntt.
Ermis affirms that the “pedestrian in roadway” charge is part of the traffic code, not the penal code, a minor offense.
He also grants that despite being “ready to use his weapon,” he seeks other more conservative measures of gaining control of a suspect first. As an example, he allowed Chris Grisham to take his father’s cell phone camera in order to obtain Grisham’s cooperation being handcuffed. However Grisham still continued to resist.
Though Ermis had reluctantly agreed earlier that having a rifle “barrel down” was one safe position, he readily acknowledged that the front-chest carry, even with “barrel down,” was a combat-ready position.
In discussing the concept of “rudely displaying a weapon” in a “manner calculated to alarm,” Ermis concurred that the weapon did not have to be pointed at someone.
Gauntt passes the witness to the defense for re-cross examination.
The jury scans the room and looks at Ermis. Only one or two take notes. The Lady in Black gazes dourly over the proceedings. She wears a dark brown blouse, black slacks, and knitted black shawl. Hazel watches the supporters briefly, then turns back to the defense table.
Rannefeld has Ermis establish that traffic offenses are Class C misdemeanors. He then asks if any force can be used by police officers in such offenses. Ermis patiently repeats that only reasonable force can be used to gain control of a suspect.
A copy of the Texas Penal Code is produced for Ermis with instructions to read a section. He produces a pair of glasses and scans the book. It takes some minutes.
Richardson props his chin with one hand. The pale, blond heavyset woman cools herself with an oriental fan. Emily has yet to arrive.
Ermis looks up from the book, removing his readers. He doesn’t appear impressed. Though he has testified for two days and two trials, he doesn’t give the appearance of fatigue or tension.
Looking as though he had discovered gold, Rannefeld crows that the text says “unreasonable, excessive force is not allowed.” Ermis concurs. “This is a Class C misdemeanor,” Rannefeld continues, asserting that Grisham thought he was acting in self-defense.
Gauntt objects saying that it calls for speculation, and it is sustained.
Rannefeld then asks for a definition of “impede” and objection is raised again. There is no legal definition of “impede.” It is sustained.
Somewhat deflated, he goes in another direction. Actually, many directions.
“How did you determine MSG Grisham’s mental capability?”
“I have no way to determine. Medical records are protected.”
“What if I tried to take your badge?”
“Depends on the circumstances.”
“Are AR-15s sold with a strap?”
“How many people have you arrested carrying a gun on a roadway?”
“Is carrying a gun on the back readily accessible?”
The jury is excused briefly as defense and prosecution haggle over the details surrounding the police report and addendum.
Grisham flips through his notes, writing. The jury can be heard laughing just outside their door. It continues as they reenter the courtroom.
As the defense resumes, a General Orders manual for the Temple Police Department is supplied. Rannefeld asserts that this is a police “stop.” There are procedures for a police “stop.”
The manual instructs that officers should show “restraint and courtesy.” Ermis indicates that they do “as much as possible.” It also teaches that police should “explain the reason for contact” as soon as possible. Ermis believes they are guidelines but each public contact is unique.
On re-cross Gauntt corrects Rannefeld, saying that officers may “explain the reason for contact” as soon as practical, not possible. Ermis admitted it was not practical.
“Under the circumstances, I did as much as I could.”
“Was Mr. Grisham courteous?”
Returning back to the defense, Ermis is hammered again about the differences in reports. Rannefeld asks again if he had asked for Grisham’s weapon. Ermis again repeated that he thought he had, documented it in his first report, and told the shift supervisor Sgt. Menix. Later upon reviewing the dashcam video, he realized he hadn’t, and removed such reference from his addendum.
There is really nothing else on which to pin a defense. It’s mostly a jumbled bag of majoring on minors.
Ermis is finally released. There will be no more prosecution witnesses.
Everyone is given a short break while the defense prepares to present their only witness, Grisham’s son Chris.
I hear Grisham barking instructions into his phone to Emily, who is racing to bring Chris to court on time. As I step outside for a smoke, mother and son trot hastily into the courthouse.
His appearance and bearing have changed significantly. Gone are the SpongeBob T-shirt and tousled mane. He is smartly dressed in crisp shirt and trousers, with carefully combed hair.
His comportment is more mature and reticent.
As the trial resumes, the jury chuckles their way into the courtroom.
Chris takes the stand. None of the abject terror he previously exhibited is present, though he is clearly uncomfortable. His voice is soft and halting, with unfinished sentences, fading away at times. He grimaces at perceived mistakes.
Both Emily and Grisham watch him fixedly. I can’t help but be reminded of parents attending their child’s school play, making sure he delivers his lines correctly.
Chris said they lived on a farm and that he was familiar with guns, and had hunted. He verified that he and his father were on a ten mile Eagle Scout hike together.
He went on to describe the encounter with Ermis.
“The cop… (blinks)…police officer didn’t like that he had a gun…threw him to the car.”
“How did that make you feel?”
Gauntt objects and Richardson instructs Rannefeld to reword the question.
“What did you do?”
“What was Sgt. Ermis’ expression?”
“Anger…uh… and later…satisfaction.”
When asked how Ermis dealt with him during his father’s detainment, he replied,” He didn’t notice me at all.”
“He never investigated you at all?”
“You were wearing a backpack?”
“What were you doing?”
“I was on the phone with mom to see if she could come pick me up.”
“Was he under arrest?”
“I wasn’t sure.”
“Did he (Grisham) comply after he handed you (his) phone (camera)?”
“What did you do?”
“I was just sitting there… recording the camera.”
Rannefeld passes the witness to the prosecution.
Gauntt is aware of Chris’ acute discomfort on the witness stand and keeps his examination brief and non-confrontational. Chris shifts uneasily in his seat but keeps his composure throughout questioning.
Gauntt establishes that Chris didn’t see all what transpired between Ermis and Grisham, only the very beginning. Despite that, Chris avows that his father complied immediately when the cell phone camera was transferred to son.
It’s established that Chris carried no weapon that day. Gauntt engages him in a discussion of firearms.
Chris admits, “I don’t really know gun names.”
Regarding the AR-15, Gauntt asks, “Would it kill a coyote?”
“If you shot at the head, I guess.”
The reply produces snickering from the spectators, especially OCT.
Unable to reach his mother, Chris received a ride home with Sgt. Menix.
There are two bothersome issues from Chris’ brief testimony.
The first is his claim of being a hunter experienced with firearms, yet he can’t recall make and model of rifles or shotguns. Regarding the coyote issue, a hunter would know to fire at the largest body mass, and that .223 ammo would be lethal. This goes to veracity of testimony.
The second is the phone call to his mother to come pick him up even before he was certain Grisham was being arrested. It raises the specter of a staged incident in which Grisham planned to be arrested, and arranged for Chris to secure transportation home.
Chris is excused from the stand. There are no other defense witnesses.
Another break is allowed before closing arguments. The cheerful jury exits, already jovial before the door closes behind them.
There will be a conference with attorneys in the judge’s chambers to discuss changes in charges, if any.
There are thirteen Grisham supporters present. I recognize many of them from the previous trial. Two TV reporters and Tukman are present.
Tukman sits alone most of the time, absorbed in his own writing. Bespectacled with shoulder length brown hair, he often runs his hand through his hair, raises his shoulders, and wrinkles his brow as if he searches for the precisely expressed word.
A friendly young reporter is in the courtroom. He has no idea who Gauntt’s co-counsel is. I ask if his TV station ever does investigative reporting. He admits it is rare. I’ve learned from the first trial that sharing my research with local TV reporters is pointless. It went nowhere.
I go to Lazott to obtain the correct title and spelling of his name. He eyes me guardedly but acquiesces. Keilberg stares at us keenly. I’ve attracted the attention of supporters also. I keep my encounter brief.
An older distinguished gentleman enters the courtroom and seats himself near the back. He appears younger than his years with smooth complexion, bald pate, and wearing a subtle tan suit. At the first trial I had presumed him to be the Book Lady’s husband.
The Grisham supporter who had shown kindness to me makes eye contact and nods curtly. I say hello to Everard but there are too many supporters around him to have a conversation.
I take a seat next to Hazel. Keilberg stares at her briefly.
From the supporter crowd comes an elderly, tall, slim, slightly deaf man in sharply pressed jeans and denim snap shirt. A large Western belt buckle complements the ensemble. His full head of white hair is carefully combed and his deep-set blue eyes regard me with disdain. He seats himself in the bench in front of me.
He tells me he’s read my entire 21 page article (The Trial That Won’t Go Away) and “was impressed.”
I think I must have more devoted readers in OCT than any other group.
In order to be a writer, you must have gone to classes for that?
Is it your passion?
Failing to get a rise, he slowly leaves.
The supporters are now discussing handgun ammunition and its various merits. Emily has not been here since Chris testified.
Schumacher has created a condensed portrait of the courtroom scene, but wants to work it into watercolors. I scan the picture and easily recognize the players. She wants to become a freelance courtroom artist. She has no dog in this fight.
I discuss the case with the friendly TV reporter, who has returned after a presumed update to his editor. We concur that this trial isn’t receiving nearly as much media attention as before. It was the third or fourth story last night on the six o’clock news. He believes people are only interested in the verdict, not the proceedings.
Richardson and the attorneys return and resume court. The judge announces that closing arguments will be heard after lunch. We file out.
Hazel and I head toward the elevator. We tentatively join the Lady in Black as the sole car occupants, pressing the first floor button.
Abruptly she turns and speaks, startling us both. She introduces herself as Diana Symm, wife of Sgt. Robert Symm. He was another officer involved in Grisham’s arrest who was not called to testify (His hand can be seen receiving Grisham’s wallet in the cell phone video).
Following my introduction yesterday, she had read the first article “The Trial That Won’t Go Away” and had no idea about Grisham’s background. She decided to speak with me following that. Normally she had to be very careful who she talked to due to the adverse publicity.
She was furious at the way police officers’ lives had been affected by the notoriety and chaotic publicity prior to the trials. Comments on social media such as “They ought to be hanged!” by keyboard commandos affected her deeply. Likely it affected the men too, but they say nothing without clearance from the Public Affairs Department.
Determined to see the trial through, she found the experience to be eye-opening. She believed that Grisham wanted only publicity and money from gullible supporters.
That could be so. I had a brief discussion with a police officer having prior military experience who believed that Grisham used his background in counter-intelligence to manipulate media and his followers.
Following a much abbreviated lunch, Hazel and I return to hear closing arguments.
While Rannefeld objects to the language in the offense and is overruled, the jury laughs loudly behind their door. It is creepy.
Once the jury is seated, Richardson clearly and authoritatively reads the charge. They occasionally take notes, but mostly direct their attention to him.
Grisham listens alertly. Emily has returned and gazes straight ahead.
Dressed in a sober black suit, Lazott presents the prosecution’s closing argument. The defense table occupants lean forward in unison.
He reminds the jury that they are trying the person, not the uniform.
Authority is structure of which police are a part, protecting both the officer and the defendant, he reasons. It is within an officer’s authority to disarm a suspect during an investigation.
Standing in front of the jury box he again demonstrates how quickly the AR-15 could be swung into fire position from the chest-front position.
Even Chris admitted Grisham’s compliance was conditional.
The dashcam video is the best evidence, he asserts, to see that Grisham did not comply with Ermis’ instructions.
Rannefeld counters that citizens have rights too. He blames Ermis for escalating the situation. He could’ve asked Grisham for his gun.
“He (Ermis) can do anything he wants, including shoot him (Grisham) five or six times and disarm him.”
Grisham refusing to be disarmed was a “reaction,” like “someone grabbing my tie,” he explained. It was “self-defense.”
He brought up the differences in Ermis’ initial and supplemental reports as proof of deceit. He reminds the jurors not to give Ermis “uniform credibility “either.
Emily looks tired. Grisham stares at his legal pad. Supporters follow Rannefeld in rapt attention.
Emphasizing Chris’ fear, Rannefeld quotes him. “’I froze’”.
Speaking of Grisham, Rannefeld waxes theatrical.
“Should he just go into the fetal position and hope he (Ermis) doesn’t shoot me? I think he’s glad to have his son video him getting shot.”
He continues laboriously through several points of testimony, including traffic offenses, the caller not dialing 911, the change of charges, etc., until Richardson raps the bench sharply. This indicates he has exceeded his twenty minute time limit.
Gauntt summarized the closing argument by dismissing the traffic offense angle, etc., as irrelevant. He efficiently condenses the case as a call requiring investigation by an officer.
Grisham was carrying a rifle and instructed to keep his hands away from it. He complied. Ermis determined it was real. When asked why he had it, Grisham replied, “Because I can.” Ermis attempted to disarm him by unclipping the rifle and Grisham grabbed the gun.
Grisham repeatedly refused to put his hands behind his back, even after bargaining that he would do so if allowed to pass his cell phone camera to his son. Ermis never threatened to use deadly force.
He reminds the jury that Ermis is not on trial. He points to Grisham.
“This man and his actions are why we are here.”
Then he makes an astonishing observation regarding the dashcam video.
When Sgt. Menix arrives on scene, Gauntt declares, Grisham smiles.
“This sounds like a set-up,” Gauntt proclaims.
There are others who harbor similar suspicions, but I never expected to hear it said aloud in court.
The jury is dismissed to begin their deliberations.
Three days prior to Grisham’s arrest, he made one of many appearances before the City Council, urging them to affirm Second Amendment principles. It was suggested to him that he might want to go through legislative channels to accomplish his purposes. Following his rebuff, Grisham’s arrest does seem fortuitously timed.
About a week after Grisham posted his cell phone video on YouTube, the City of Temple offices began receiving what became an avalanche of vulgar and hostile emails, phone calls and letters. Almost all of them came from outside the Temple area. Extra personnel had to be hired to handle the volume.
During deliberations I try to find out more information about Kurt Glass’ abrupt departure as Grisham’s first legal counsel, but an attorney will only guardedly allow that he was not very knowledgeable. The reason for quitting is unknown.
OCT members frequently request protected information from the City of Temple, such as documents necessary to an ongoing trial or investigation, and they cry “conspiracy” when the papers are not released. This requires the City to petition the Attorney General to continue to withhold the information pending the outcome of the investigation or trial. The City simply follows the law. Unnecessary ginning of paperwork due to ignorance.
Following two short hours, the message ripples through the crowd that a verdict has been reached. We scramble to our seats and look around expectantly.
Rannefeld enters first and warns the supporters that no matter what happens; do not treat anyone with disrespect. They are to remain calm.
Richardson takes the bench.
All eyes are fastened on the jury room door. No noise can be heard behind it.
The jury files in. They avoid Grisham’s gaze.
Grisham’s face is flushed pink, but without expression.
Emily’s face is bright red, on the verge of tears. Her eyes are closed.
The verdict is read by the foreman.
Grisham turns pale but doesn’t react.
Emily and the pale, heavyset woman cry.
No dramatic crowd response occurs. They are mute and look stunned.
Diana Symm’s shoulders drop slightly in relief, but her expression is unchanged.
Rannefeld and Gauntt shake hands cordially.
Richardson defers sentencing to tomorrow and dismisses court.
The supporters remain in their seats, motionless, until instructed to leave by a deputy. They file out slowly and mechanically, saying little.
As I drive away from the Justice Complex, I spot a lone supporter at the parkway exit carrying a sign used in the last trial, “Carrying a Gun Is Not a Crime.” He’s the only one I’ll see there the entire trial.
Later on a TV interview, Grisham expresses disappointment but takes no responsibility for his actions. He blames the jury. He vows to appeal.
But that takes money. Lots of it.
Ominous rippled gray clouds hover over the Justice Complex. Temperatures are still moderate but thick humidity has made the atmosphere uncomfortably stuffy. A sharp cold snap with heavy rain is lumbering southeast from the Panhandle, threatening to plunge Temple into genuine winter.
As Hazel and I approach the front automatic doors, a supporter sits off to the right with a sign bearing quotes from Texas Penal Code about self-defense. He is largely ignored.
Upstairs a large “Do Not Enter” sign is posted on the courtroom door. A hearing is in progress. Grisham is here in his Class B uniform again.
Wukman peers through the door window, anxious to enter. His recent articles have shown more balance than McKeon’s.
Supporters are gathered around chatting informally, mostly about the coming cold weather. I count 13 here today. In contrast to last evening, they seem to be in good spirits.
The hearing ends and apparently had nothing to do with this case. Attorneys dart out the doors and we are allowed to file in, taking our accustomed places.
Grisham smiles somewhat sheepishly at Rannefeld, then becomes pensive. He flushes slightly at the appearance of Lazott and Gauntt, and then focuses on his counsel’s activity.
The snap and creak of leather briefcases unfolding can be heard. The attorneys retire to the judge’s chambers.
Grisham ponders his supporters with a side look, lacing and unlacing his fingers, but doesn’t talk to them. He chats with Emily. Their oldest daughter Anissa is here. The other children are absent, but it is a school day.
Finally the court reporter takes her customary place, signaling that trial is about to begin. She smiles at Grisham.
“MSG Grisham, how are you today?”
“Oh, I’m wonderful,” comes the slightly sarcastic reply.
Court resumes and Richardson declares this to be a Hearing of Punishment.
Rannefeld reminds the jury they can assign zero jail time and fines.
The first prosecution witness is Willie Capps, a 27 year member of Boy Scouts of America who has held numerous administrative positions within that organization, and oversees three Scout units.
As described by another Temple resident, he knows just about everything there is to know about Scouting. He is also a Second Amendment supporter.
He is a chubby, bespectacled man with a slightly unruly mop of straight brown hair. He wears khaki trousers and a polo shirt with large horizontal stripes.
What’s unique about Capps is that yesterday, November 19, the TDT published his scathing letter to the editor condemning Grisham for his behavior as a father, soldier, and man.
He flatly denies that Chris could ever obtain credit for an Eagle Scout hike with only Grisham present, nor would a cell phone camera be sufficient to document it. Another adult must be present, he insists.
Rannefeld has little to say to him. He suggests that if Chris’ Scoutmaster disagreed, would it be acceptable? Capps replies no, though he’s aware of variation of opinions among Scoutmasters.
He is dismissed.
Emily is gone as this point. She will testify as a witness. Keilberg ignores the proceedings, staring straight ahead toward the judge, seeing nothing.
The last prosecution witness is Joe Medrano, Investigator for the County Attorney’s office. He is a short, professionally dressed Hispanic man with crisp white shirt and tan slacks. He is nervous on the stand and speaks in short sentences.
He compiled video, pictures, and emails sent to the County Attorney’s office regarding this case. He researched Grisham’s organization, OCT.
Pre-offense activity was reviewed, including the appearance at the Temple City Council meeting three days prior to the offense. His posting of the cell phone video on YouTube followed by a request for donations on Indiegogo did not escape Medrano’s attention. He noted that close to $52,000 was raised.
All of that money is taxable when gifts are given for certain levels of donating, such as hats, pins, books, T shirts, and the like.
Medrano noted that Grisham’s civil suit demanded $1.2 million in damages. Medrano did not specify what the damage was alleged to be.
Grisham made liberal use of public media, framing his arrest as a Second Amendment issue, and appeared with Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Todd Starnes, and Alex Jones. He also made use of newspaper, radio, internet, and one local radio host, Lynn Woolley. He continues to use his notoriety today and formed the group OCT, of which he is president, Medrano reported.
I remember Alex Jones from a video of the open carry rally in front of the Alamo in San Antonio. He stood on a platform clutching a microphone, swinging his free arm, and whipping the crowd into a feverish state, warning of the coming Red Dawn. The only thing missing was a tin foil hat.
Rannefeld countered that some people solicit him first. It’s public information. It’s relevant, right?
That’s rather like becoming notorious through committing murder, then blaming the media for seeking you out.
“What if I told you Steve Ermis—“begins Rannefeld.
“Objection! Relevance?” snaps Gauntt.
Both approach the bench.
Apparently it is decided to terminate the line of questioning, and Medrano is released.
Rannefeld then presents his witnesses for the defense, all of whom are Grisham’s family and friends. His wife Emily is first.
When she takes the stand, Grisham flushes pink.
Married 18 years, she describes him as a man of “integrity, a strong man to lean on when I feel weak, a man of strong convictions, a fine man, a strong person who will admit when he is wrong.”
The jury watches and writes.
The children were taught how to handle and clean weapons properly by him. Chris has been in Boy Scouts since he was seven, though she’s not sure how much time Grisham spent with him.
More tearful, she believes he changed after the arrest. The incident triggered a PTSD episode, she begins.
Gauntt objects that she is not a physician. Sustained. Emily appears irritated.
She tries again. She had a conversation with his doctor—
Another objection. Hearsay. Sustained. Emily is angry.
She describes Grisham as having “tunnel vision,” focusing exclusively on the case and gun rights, becoming withdrawn emotionally, personally and spiritually. His behavior has affected Chris.
Emily may not be a physician, but I am. Nothing about that describes PTSD. There is a lot of narcissism and perhaps depression suggested.
“The last eight months have been punishment enough.”
Gauntt countered by asking if Grisham had sought more treatment, which she affirmed.
He handed her the text of a KXXV Channel 25 interview in which Grisham blamed the jury for his guilty verdict, and asked her to read it.
“Does he get it yet?” Gauntt asked.
The waterworks disappear. Suddenly angry, Emily argues with him.
So much so, that Richardson has to tell her to be quiet.
Gauntt asks her if she lays the blame on the police officers.
“They should be ashamed.”
Grisham is attentive to the sharp exchange of words.
Rannefeld counters that Emily is simply defending her spouse, to which she agrees. She is released.
Anissa Grisham, the oldest daughter, is the next witness. She is in her senior year of high school. Grisham seems most affected emotionally by her testimony.
During sentencing testimony the jury watches closely but rarely writes.
She begins by reading a prepared statement about her father to which the prosecution objects.
Anissa has more difficulty speaking extemporaneously about her father’s qualities, which include sense of humor, strong convictions, trying to do what is right, helping with homework and being a good dad.
When she painfully utters she would be robbed of his presence her last semester of high school, a red-faced Grisham appears to wipe his right eye. From my distant position I can see no tears.
Anissa asks for the jury to be lenient and is released with the prosecution declining to question her. There really is no point. It would only anger the jury.
Of course there is always a risk in presenting too many defense witnesses during sentencing hearings too. At some point the jury can become bored and annoyed listening to too many people say the same thing over and over.
With that in mind the third defense witness is Danny Little, Grisham’s Scoutmaster. He is tall, thin and balding with efficient, bird-like movements. He wears large wire frame glasses, a camel coat, blue button-down shirt and tan slacks. I can easily see him as a high school calculus teacher.
Though he knows Grisham through Troop 108 and the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church, he admits he doesn’t know him intimately.
He knew Grisham as dependable and steering boys in the right direction.
He saw Grisham as a man of “conviction but never offensive.”
That doesn’t square with the man spraying profanities all over Temple police on a side road. But it’s possible to present different faces to different people.
He is released with prosecution declining to question him. There is nothing of interest there.
Two more acquaintances of Grisham testify, but essentially sing the same song with only slightly different verses. He’s helpful, he’s respectful, he’s humble, he’s friendly, he stands up for his rights.
It dawns on me that none of his colleagues in the Army, veteran or active duty, are here to testify to his good character. These are the people he worked most closely with.
Nor are any of the milbloggers who adored him so much back in 2009. I didn’t see any of them in the spectators or supporters.
I’m surprised and pleased to catch a glimpse of the Book Lady in the left back row. She has come doubly prepared with a hardback and a paperback novel.
It is time for both attorneys to summarize their sentencing arguments.
Rannefeld recapitulates Grisham’s stance that he felt so strongly that he had done no wrong that perhaps he went too far. Grisham had repeatedly asked what he had done wrong. No one had answered.
He understood now, asserted Rannefeld, and would never do it again.
Hazel choked. We both knew he was already facing charges for “criminal trespass” in Austin, occurring just over a week ago.
Grisham props his chin with one hand, and listens closely.
“Remember his family,” pleaded Rannefeld, “you can sentence no time and no fine.”
Gauntt strolls toward the jury, placing the tips of his fingers together.
“We are all accountable for our actions, “he intones, “Today you tell us what the safety of our police officers is worth.”
Tributes are not surprising, coming from friends and family, he declares.
One purpose of punishment is deterrence, he avows. It’s a way of saying:
“This is wrong and you can’t do this.”
He ends by reading Grisham’s quote from KXXV Channel 25 TV broadcast blaming the jury for his conviction.
The jury is dismissed to deliberate punishment. There is no giggling this time.
We linger in the courtroom. Grisham pecks earnestly at his smart phone.
His supporters chat comfortably. No toothbrushes are in sight. After all, they’re not the ones going to jail.
The Book Lady is smartly dressed in a pale lime green blouse and black slacks. Her silky blonde hair is salon perfect.
She is Nancy Gauntt, the prosecutor’s mother. She has read my first article and scolds me for overestimating John Gauntt, Jr.’s age. There’s nothing to do but apologize profusely, and plead distance, as I was confined to the back row to observe all the proceedings.
After a few minutes her husband arrives. He is John Gauntt, Sr. who has just won the election for District 27 Judge. I congratulate him. He has just attended a hearing in Lampasas, west of Temple.
Wearing a trademark natty tan suit, Judge Gauntt looks much younger than his years, betrayed only by a balding pate. His face is smooth with a slight tan, completed by dark brown, thoughtful eyes. His deep, measured voice reveals the familiar resonant central Texas drawl.
Their daughter lives in the same town I do. Judge Gauntt produces his smart phone and deftly directs me to a satellite rendering of her home.
Meanwhile, Rannefeld and Gauntt, Jr. are shooting the breeze like old friends. The trial is winding down and there is no need to appear adversarial.
The court reporter and bailiff are whiling away the time, likely in friendly gossip.
Rannefeld and his wife Carol begin packing their exhibits and equipment. They roll them out the door to their vehicle.
The announcement spreads quickly that a verdict has been reached after only an hour.
Anxiety ripples through the courtroom as people clamber for seats.
Grisham is flushed pink. He glances back at his supporters. He smiles nervously at Keilberg, perhaps sharing a joke.
Anissa looks at the floor. I can’t see Emily’s demeanor, but she is in the front right row holding Anissa. I count 14 supporters.
There are more sheriffs’ deputies than usual for the sentencing. Three are stationed at the rear courtroom doors, and one to the left. They are massive men, with beefy arms and broad chests straining at the confines of their gray uniforms. Their expressions are stern and convey alertness for signs of trouble.
The rear doors open. All the witnesses and police officers enter, seating themselves on the left with Hazel, Diana Symm, and me. They rise as the jury enters.
These are the people whose lives have been torched by Grisham’s desperate grab for the white-hot blaze of national media attention.
Grisham chews his cheek and bites his lip.
The jury foreman reads the sentence.
$2000.00, fine. No jail time.
There is silence in the courtroom. It is as if neither side is happy with the sentence.
Rannefeld shakes hands with the Grisham family. Grisham gives a thumbs up sign to Emily, which she returns.
The witnesses and police officers file out slowly and quietly.
After thousands of dollars and man-hours, plus the stress and grief of trial, Grisham is only fined $2000.00, which he will likely talk his supporters into paying, with the click of a PayPal button.
If the officers feel cheated there was no jail time, I can’t blame them.
I stayed long enough to listen to the three unsmiling Grishams give interviews to three TV stations. Only CJ and Emily talked while Anissa stood close by.
Grisham complained of the emotional and psychological stress caused by the trial. Emily said no one should have to go through the scrutiny of the whole city on their family.
How about the whole nation?
Once Grisham made the decision to post his own cell phone video on YouTube, it wasn’t long before it went viral. Coupled with his multiple media appearances it wasn’t long before social media was spilling over with death threats and vulgar posts toward the officers involved.
Ermis revealed in the first trial he had had death threats against himself, his wife and his children.
While Grisham spews hatred against law enforcement officers on Twitter, Temple police cars have been vandalized, with a rear window shot out in one case. A beer bottle was thrown through another. Police say the level of suspects’ aggression is higher. Some officers put up security cameras at home and keep their children inside.
Diana Symm offers her experience as a police officer’s wife.
The trial was on her husband Robert’s mind and he didn’t need anything else on his mind. He works twelve hour shifts that sometimes turn into 14 or 16. She has a cookbook for meals that will keep.
In the 30 years he’s been on the force, he’s been shot, stabbed and slashed. She hopes every time he goes out the door he’ll be okay, but never knows for sure.
They have children. When the Grisham case was first discussed in class as an assignment, her daughter cried because they were talking ugly about her father. Students had no idea they were talking about her daddy.
People have no idea what police officers or their families go through, she insists. They just think they do.
I asked her how her family felt about the guilty verdict.
They were relieved. Now they plan to move on with their lives.
If the Grishams want sympathy, they know where they can find it in the dictionary.
Neither Grisham accepts any responsibility for their behavior.
County Attorney Jim Nichols is correct. This trial was never about the Second Amendment.
Grisham’s behavior in Temple is consistent with his behavior in Huntsville, Alabama, in 2009 when a similar case unfolded about school uniforms.
Stage a confrontation, become outraged when faced with consequences, threaten a lawsuit, raise money from supporters for which there appears to be no accountability, and carpet-bomb the lives and reputations of decent, good people all around him.
Plus he plans to appeal, and is soliciting funds even now. That $1,000,000 pledge doesn’t appear to go very far. If it exists.
If the IRS or FBI follows the money, they are unlikely to deterred by responses of “None of your business” that are the Grishams’ standard reply.
Grisham complains about the loss of his Concealed Handgun License (CHL) for five years as being unconstitutional. He plans to reapply.
Likely he’ll never get it back. A weapons-related Class B misdemeanor means you have a snowball’s chance of ever seeing your CHL again.
His next trial date is December 9th in Austin to answer for the charge of “criminal trespass.”
There is a bright side to the outcome of this trial.
It established that a police officer has a right to disarm a subject prior to investigation. That adds to officer safety.
Grisham’s attempts to become the poster boy for the Second Amendment are having serious repercussions for him, and resulting in more level 2A heads shunning him and his histrionic methods.
Grisham learned nothing from this experience.
Angered by the verdict, he has since posted his version of events in painstaking detail on YouTube in an obsessive bid for vindication.
He has already been arrested in Austin for “criminal trespass” in between his two trials.
Despite his outrageous behavior, the Army has yet to take steps to sanction it.
As Gauntt, Jr. said, “He doesn’t get it.”
His unquenchable thirst for notoriety has left residents of yet another city flattened by his tornado of chaos, leaving them to pick up the pieces of their reputations, their personal lives, and their sense of security.
His behavior is escalating in a precarious way.
It is one thing to frighten female teachers and principals at a middle school in Huntsville.
It is totally different to provoke confrontations with law enforcement officers.
Someone could get killed.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Barbara Lawrence is a retired physician and Second Amendment supporter living in Texas.