Third Circuit hears arguments on Perkins verdict

Third Circuit hears argument on Perkins verdict

It astounded the community, last year,  when State District Judge Ron Ware set aside a jury's second degree murder verdict against Bryce Perkins and replaced it with manslaughter.

Prosecutors appealed and attorneys on both sides appeared before the Third Circuit Court of Appeal to argue about that controversial ruling last year in the Perkins case.

Perkins shot Marine Daniel Gueringer at a Fourth of July party in 2009.  A jury found him guilty of second degree murder, but the trial court, Judge Ron Ware, concluded there was insufficient evidence and replaced the jury verdict with manslaughter.  Ware went on to sentence Perkins to thirty years in prison.

A key issue in the appeal, did Perkins have specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm when he fired a gun and shot Gueringer, who died a short time later.  Or, more specifically, was it rational for a jury to decide Perkins had specific intent,  based on the evidence.

KPLC-TV received permission to have a camera in the Third Circuit Courtroom, as attorneys for both sides argued, and is thus able to show some of the argument and judges' comments.

While there are cases when it would be appropriate for a judge to throw out a jury's verdict, the state argues this is not one of those cases.

The three judges who heard the case were Chief Judge Gene Thibodeaux, Judge Sylvia Cooks and Judge Billy Ezell.

Assistant District Attorney Carla Sigler argued Perkins showed specific intent to kill when he pointed a gun at a crowd of people. She told the three judge panel, "He chambered a round. If you're just trying to scare people off as this defendant claims at one point in his confession, why are you chambering a round? You don't load the weapon unless you're planning to fire it. And when the defendant breaks free he has pointed the weapon straight ahead and fires the gun. There's no struggle over the gun. No one's touching him when he fires the gun."

Sigler also told the court, "Specific intent can be formed in an instant and it's inferred by the defendant's actions in this case. You don't look at what a rational person would have done. You look at what it is this defendant did. He chambers a round. The defense actually argues that that's not an aggressive action. Well I'm sorry but if I'm somewhere and somebody pulls a gun and chambers a round I'm going to consider that pretty aggressive."

But Defense Attorney Tom Lorenzi argues Daniel Gueringer was not even involved in the fight and that Perkins did not mean to shoot anyone. "Mr. Perkins was not coming to a party. Mr. Perkins was arriving in response to a phone call from Taylor Johnson saying, 'I'm about to be jumped.'"  As well, Lorenzi told the court, "The question is, is it rational for someone to conclude that someone who is being pummeled by three people forms specific intent to shoot someone other than one of these three people, who is some distance away, who's never participated in any of the conflict."

The judges ask questions and make comments giving attorneys a chance to further defend their positions.  For instance, Chief Judge Gene Thibodeaux asked, "Is it reasonable to assume that even if I didn't intend to kill you that I intended to inflict great bodily harm."

Judge Sylvia Cooks pointed out, "The Supreme Court has said, the fact that your shot does not go toward the intended victim does not matter if you intended to hit anything."

Judge Billy Ezell told attorneys, "This court has found in several cases that the pointing of a weapon into a crowd can be specific intent and firing that weapon into that crowd."

Sigler argued the trial court cannot simply substitute its opinions for those of jurors. "If you're going to do something as serious as overturn a jury verdict, you need to get the fact and the law right and that didn't happen here."

However, Lorenzi argues Judge Ware did the right thing,  even though he knew it would be unpopular. Lorenzi argued, "Judge Ware deserves to be lauded for having made a very difficult decision by following the law, although he certainly knew that this was not going to be a popular decision."

A ruling from the Third Circuit is not expected to come for at least a couple of months.

Family members of Daniel Gueringer were in the courtroom to listen to the arguments. They were devastated last year,  when on sentencing day, the jury's second degree murder verdict was replaced with manslaughter.

Gueringer's mother Sandra was pleased with the Sigler's argument for the state and said she hopes the appeal court will reinstate the jury verdict. "Our community needs to understand that this kind of violence can not exist in our society. This is not how to handle the problems that started that night and that our son should not have had to die. We should not have to live without our son now because somebody was not able to control their violent nature."

It was July 4th weekend 2009 when Gueringer was shot at a party and died a short time later at a local hospital.  Perkins is now serving a thirty year sentence for manslaughter.

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