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Mistrial for white ex-police chief in black man's death


ORANGEBURG, S.C. — A judge has declared a mistrial in the case of a former small-town white police chief charged with murdering an unarmed black man in 2011.

Judge Edgar Dickson made the decision in the Richard Combs case just after 2 a.m. Tuesday, after the jury told him it remained deadlocked. Dickson thanked the jurors for their service, then dismissed them.

Combs shot and killed 53-year-old Bernard Bailey in May 2011, but wasn't charged with murder until last month.

An Orangeburg County grand jury indicted Combs Dec. 3, the same day a New York grand jury's refusal to indict an officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man set off demonstrations across the nation.

Jurors had been deliberating for almost 12 hours, and had three options before them: convict Combs of murder, convict on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, or acquit him outright. In the end, however, they couldn't come to an agreement on any of those choices.

The final vote was 9-3 in favor of guilt, but it's unclear if that was for the murder or involuntary manslaughter charge.

Just before 11:30 p.m. Monday, jurors first told the judge they couldn't reach a decision. At that point, the judge read them what's known as the Allen Charge, a special instruction that encourages jurors in the minority to reconsider their decision.

While it's unclear what hung up jurors, during deliberations, they asked the judge for the legal definitions of murder, manslaughter, malice, and reasonable doubt.

At one point in the jury's deliberations, at approximately 9:40 p.m., the jury sent the judge a communication to ask about the score of the college football national championship game between the Oregon Ducks and Ohio State. The Buckeyes ultimately took the title, 42-20.

Both the prosecution and the defense said afterward they were disappointed by the outcome, and members of the Bailey's family left the courtroom in tears. First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe, who prosecuted the case, said he will pursue a retrial on the murder charge.

Combs killed Bailey on May 2, 2011, outside the Eutawville Police Department, the agency Combs led — and was the sole officer for — at the time. Combs and Bailey had a disagreement that arose after Combs ticketed Bailey's daughter, Briana Bailey, for a broken tail light in March of 2011.

When she was pulled over, Briana Bailey called her father from her cellphone, and he arrived a short time later. Combs said Bernard Bailey was aggressive once he got to the scene, and Combs weeks later pursued a warrant against the man for obstruction of justice .

Prosecutors, though, played dashcam video that they said showed him calmly walking around and even saying a cordial goodbye to Combs. Bailey's daughter testified that her father was compliant and never threatened the defendant.

During their deliberations, jurors asked to see that video another time.

On the day of the killing, Bailey went to the police station to see if he could get the ticket against his daughter dismissed. During his testimony on the witness stand, Combs said Bailey repeatedly tried to talk about his daughter's ticket, but Combs told him he would only discuss the matter with the daughter. Combs said Bailey then became very aggravated.

It was at that point that Combs revealed to Bailey that he had a warrant against him, and intended to arrest him. Bailey left the building, and Combs pursed him into the parking lot.

Prosecutors said repeatedly that Combs was unjustified in following Bailey. "He had a month and a half to cool off," Pascoe said during closing arguments. "And he didn't do it. This wasn't just a save face warrant for that night. This was a chief of police who'd been on the job for two weeks and he was going to make an example out of Briana Bailey's father. He did."

Combs' attorneys said he then attempted to handcuff Bailey, but wasn't successful, and dropped the restraints on the ground. After Bailey got in his truck, Combs reached through the vehicle's window in an attempt to stop him from leaving.

What happened next became one of the central focuses of the trial. Combs and his legal team maintained that Bailey reversed his truck, causing Combs to feel threatened, leading him to pull out his service weapon and fire three fatal shots at Bailey.

"He put the chief in the impossible position that he has to decide does he want to go home to his family or does he want to hope that his truck doesn't go over the top of him," said defense attorney Wally Fayssoux. "Does he want to hope he's not gravely injured. Does he want to hope that he's not killed."

In countering that claim, prosecutors zeroed in on the placement of the handcuffs that Combs dropped. They argued, using photographs taken at the scene, that the restraints should have been in front of the car, and not beside the door, if the vehicle had backed up several feet when Bailey reversed his car. They claimed that proved that Combs pulled out his weapon as soon as he got to the door of the vehicle.

Combs was originally charged with misconduct in office in August of 2013. The indictment accused Combs of unnecessarily using deadly force. Bailey's attorneys announced they planned to use the "stand your ground" defense in the trial on that charge. But the judge in the case denied the use of the defense on November 25, 2014, clearing the way for Pascoe to file the murder charge in December.

SOURCE :usatoday.com
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