Mistrial declared for ex-Michigan trooper accused of murder

Posted at 3:14 PM, Oct 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-31 15:14:57-04

DETROIT (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday after jurors failed to reach a verdict in the murder trial of a former Michigan State Police trooper who used a stun gun on a Detroit teenager before the teen was killed in an all-terrain vehicle crash.

Mark Bessner shot 15-year-old Damon Grimes with a Taser from a moving patrol car in August 2017. Bessner, who is white, told jurors he feared the teenager had a gun, but he was wrong. Grimes, who was black, crashed the ATV into a pickup truck and died.

The 44-year-old Bessner, who resigned from the force after Grimes’ death, was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Jurors saw state police video of the high-speed chase, but they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision to convict or acquit.

The jury’s struggle was first disclosed before lunch Tuesday. Judge Margaret Van Houten told them to keep working, but she later stopped deliberations after no progress was reported.

Bessner will be retried, according to a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said. The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Richard Convertino warned jurors against convicting Bessner out of sympathy for the victim.

“My greatest fear … is that you’ll believe that because a life was lost you need to make it right somehow, you need to fix it, someone needs to pay,” Convertino said. “Maybe so, but not in this courtroom. This is a criminal courtroom. You just can’t do that.”

Bessner said he saw Grimes move his left hand to his waist, a signal to the officer that he likely had a gun. But prosecution witnesses said they didn’t see it.

Convertino said police must make “split-second judgments” in tense situations.

“If his belief was honest and reasonable, he could act immediately to defend himself even if it turned out later that he was wrong,” Convertino said of Bessner.

Assistant prosecutor Matthew Penney said nothing justified the use of a Taser, an electronic device that immobilizes the target. He told jurors that Grimes was committing a routine traffic offense by riding an ATV on a city street. Police records indicate Bessner had a history of questionable Taser use , but the judge kept that out of the trial.

Penney reminded jurors that Bessner didn’t seem overwhelmed when he told a dispatcher that he used his Taser and Grimes had crashed. The audio was played during the trial.

“‘You want burgers for dinner tonight?’ That’s the tone of voice he’s using. Not someone who escaped death,” Penney said.