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I mostly try to limit the action in these updates to the proceedings themselves. I’m going to be turning this trial into a short graphic novel with artist Pyar Anderson, and writing a more complete and carefully told version of this story for BIKE Magazine. Not that I’ve been holding back important things learned outside the courtroom, (I totally have, and they’re juicy. I’m sorry.) but I needed to have some limits so I could offer something new in those stories.
But, on my way to the courthouse this morning, I witnessed something that gave me a better understanding of the charges—and now the verdicts that the jury reached this afternoon.
About halfway to the courthouse, I stopped to watch a fight developing at a bus stop across the street. I didn’t see what started it, but it was between a smallish guy in sweatpants and a guy in a long black trench coat. It was just a bunch of yelling at first; it seemed they were going to go their separate ways. But as they separated, some comment sparked more. They turned back at each other and kept shouting, and Trench Coat pulled a weapon.
Or, he tried to. Trench Coat had to check three pockets before he found the one with the knife, but once it was out I could see it glinting in the sun across four lanes of traffic.
He held it down by his side, arm straight, maybe eight inches from his body—exactly the same position that witnesses described Vandeman holding the screwdriver.
It was not an imminent threat to the other guy’s life, but it sent a message. Sweatpants could keep yelling, but he had to do it from 10 to 12 feet away. Trench Coat didn’t have to say anything.
I got to the courtroom around 11:00 a.m., and the bailiff told me that the jury had just finished a read-back of the handsaw incident testimony and was going to work straight through lunch. It is likely thanks to this lunch-hour effort that we know the verdicts today, since several delays once the jury was ready nearly took proceedings to the end of open-court.
After lunch however, it became clear that the jury was deadlocked on one of the counts. The handsaw.
A juror later told me that they’d come to unanimous decisions in all five of the other counts in about two hours and that the rest of the deliberations were devoted to discussing the question of intent in the most serious charge.
One of the elements of assault with a deadly weapon is whether or not the accused meant to cause bodily harm with their action. Accidents aren’t criminal. The burden of proof is on the prosecution and several members of the jury felt that the DA had not shown intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
Others on the jury felt the intent was clear, however, and several hours of deliberations only swung one vote. They were stuck.
They had reached decisions, however on five of the counts and when the jury filed back into the room, none looked at Vandeman.
The jury passed the big manila envelope to the bailiff, the bailiff handed it to the judge.
The judge opened it and reviewed the verdict for a long, silent moment, then handed it to the clerk to read.
Assault with a deadly weapon was the first charge, and they had no verdict, so Madame clerk started on count two.
For vandalizing Ian Richards’ bike tire: not guilty.
Since the punctured tire could not be found, this count was Richards’ word against Vandeman’s, leaving plenty of room for reasonable doubt. At this news, Vandeman moved forward and back in his seat very rapidly.
For exhibiting a deadly weapon: guilty.
In my opinion, the evidence and testimony was weakest on this charge. At one point Cook had argued for the charge to be thrown out since there was quite nearly no evidence that Richards had felt threatened. But in closing arguments, Cabanero made the point that showing a weapon during a conflict is a threat, intended to send a message, like Trench Coat, above. Apparently, the argument stuck.
For exhibiting a deadly weapon at Emanuel Alcala: guilty.
For battering Emanuel Alcala: not guilty.
The jury said that there was no evidence that Vandeman had touched Alcala, just his bike.
For battering Justin Bruss: guilty.
On count one, the handsaw, after asking the jury a series of questions, the judge declared a mistrial. The District Attorney’s office will have to choose whether they want to pursue that charge with another jury trial in May.
Then came the question of whether or not Vandeman would be taken into custody right away.
Cabanero requested a “remand” which means he go behind bars immediately, Cook argued that Vandeman had no criminal record, no history of failing to appear and that over the past year he had completely complied with the order to stay away from the trail.
“I must concede that cases are few and far between when a defendant is found guilty and remains out of custody,” the judge said. “Though I do think this is a unique case and Mr. Vandeman is a very unique defendant.”
He said his major concern was that Vandeman would use the interim to access the East-West fire trail. But he allowed Vandeman to stay free, since the jury had not been able to reach a verdict in the most serious charge and to the court’s knowledge he had not violated the “Stay Away” order, which there was some concern at the arraignment he would.
So, Vandeman is guilty of some of the things he’s accused of, innocent of others. The handsaw is still up in the air, but it will be for another jury to decide. If there was criminal intent, the jury confirmed, it was just a flash of malice, not a premeditated attack.
The deadly weapon charges come with a 30-day minimum sentence, so Vandeman will serve somewhere between a month and a year in jail, to be determined at his sentencing hearing.
My last glimpse of Vandeman was over my shoulder on my way out of the courtroom. He had come to court on short notice and wore brown Dickies and a t-shirt, like he’d been working out in the sun until he’d gotten the call to come in. He was still at the defendant’s table, stoic, staring straight ahead as the room emptied. I can only guess why he wasn’t more upset.