Thursday, February 5, 2009
Laura Ward not guilty
Monitor Staff Reports
After five hours and 18 minutes of deliberation late Friday, jurors cleared Eustace Mayor Laura Ward of a second degree felony assault charge leveled against her Sept. 23, 2007.
The relief Ward felt at the announcement of the verdict was clearly seen.
If convicted, Ward had faced a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
“From day one, I have had a strong faith in our judicial system and felt that justice would be served,” Ward said in a statement to The Monitor Monday.
Ward was accused of punching Trisena Mooring during a confrontation outside a Gun Barrel City bar, causing her to fall and strike her head on a concrete curb, nearly killing her.
Defense attorney Mike Head said Ward was acting in self-defense, following an earlier attack by Mooring on Ward inside the bar. Ward maintained she charged at Mooring once outside the club, but did not strike her.
Mooring testified Ward had punched her in the face, and Gun Barrel City police officers corroborated that on the witness stand.
While taking the stand Thursday afternoon, The Athens Daily Review reported, Ward testified she was in the club that night, along with her husband and a friend, and noticed a tall woman walking toward her pointing and yelling.
Ward said she looked behind her to see who the woman (identified as Mooring) was mad at, and when she looked forward again, the woman grabbed her hair and started punching, knocking her to her knees.
According to Ward, Mooring was dragged out of the club by security guards, all the while yelling threats such as “I’m going to kill you.”
Moments later, Ward and her party were escorted from the club through the same door.
Ward said she faced a chaotic situation when she came through the door, and had only a split-second to decide what to do.
Ward said Mooring was struggling to approach her, and that’s when Ward ran toward her, but did not punch her, she said.
Ward had been hurt by the attack inside the club, and no one had tried to help her, so she felt she had to take care of herself, she said.
When Assistant District Attorney Chris Martin asked Ward if she saw the seven or eight officers who were at the scene, many standing around Mooring.
Ward answered she did not realize the people around her were police officers, the Athens Daily Review reported.
“I saw Ms. Mooring come to me,” Ward said, “and I did what had to be done – to protect myself,” the Review reported.
Thursday, Head presented testimony from a Chili’s manager on an unrelated incident involving Mooring being overly aggressive at the restaurant’s bar, intimidating and attacking an older female guest there.
After unsuccessful attempts to calm her down, Chili’s manager Leslie Frentress called the police.
Frentress testified Gun Barrel City Sgt. Patrick Johnson was first on the scene and tried to get Mooring to calm down.
Frentress said, Patrick told her he recognized Mooring as someone who has been in trouble at other business establishments.
Mooring denied ever going into Chili’s Feb. 11, 2008, and on cross-examination, Johnson also denied talking to Mooring on that occasion.
During his closing remarks, Head reminded the jury that Mooring testified to not being able to remember anything about a prior altercation inside the bar between the two women, but then vividly remembered being punched by Ward.
“It’s remarkable that she remembers she had two beers and cheese fries, and then have a blackout when it comes to being inside the bar,” Head said.
“It’s because she knows she instigated this entire incident,” Head was quoted in the Athens Daily Review.
Martin told the jury Ward acted out of revenge, and not in self-defense.
“There’s a difference between being scared and being angry,” he said.
He also asked the jury to disregard evidence presented of an incident at Chili’s and focus on the incident at hand.
“I’m concerned about Laura Ward taking the law into her own hands,” he said.
Head implored the jurors to stand by what they believed in their heart.
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