Published October 31, 2018
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 who then crashed an all-terrain vehicle.
Mark Bessner used a Taser on 15-year-old Damon Grimes 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, then crashed the ATV he was riding 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.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said Bessner will be retried. The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7.
The jury's struggles were first disclosed before lunch Tuesday. Judge Margaret Van Houten told them to keep working, but she later stopped deliberations after no progress was reported.
"Thank you for all your efforts in this trial, but it looks like we're going to have to try it again sometime in the new year," Van Houten told jurors Wednesday. "It's no fault of your own. Sometimes 12 people just cannot agree after hearing all the evidence."
Defense attorney Richard Convertino said Bessner is "temporarily relieved," recognizing that he'll be going through another trial.
In his closing argument, 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. "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.
Assistant prosecutor Matthew Penney said nothing justified the use of a Taser, an electronic device that immobilizes the target. He told jurors 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.