ALIQUIPPA (KDKA) — Beaver County Sheriff George David flashed a broad smile and gave a thumbs-up victory sign after a seven-women, five-man jury acquitted him on four separate charges Friday afternoon.
He faced counts of making terroristic threats, witness intimidation and simple assault.
KDKA’s Ralph Iannotti Reports:
The verdict culminated a five-day trial, in which the 67-year-old David took the stand in his own defense, saying he never pulled a gun on the alleged victim, and never threatened him.
State Police arrested David more than two years ago after John Vranesevich, of the Beaver Countian, told investigators that David waved a gun in his face and threatened to kill him during a meeting in 2012.
The jury today returned the verdict around 5 p.m., after about an hour of deliberations.
Sheriff David, with his wife at his side, told reporters after the verdict, “It shows you how far a lie can go. Took two years and three months. It was a lie from the beginning, the jury seen it, it just took a while for it to come out.”
Even though David has been under house arrest, he said he never was actually off the job, though he was not allowed in his office in the Beaver County Courthouse.
He said, “I was working from my house. I kept working, and I’m proud of that.”
Vranesevich was not in the courtroom when the jury read the verdict.
Closing arguments wrapped up just before 3 p.m. Friday.
Prosecutors put on three rebuttal witnesses Friday morning before resting their case. The judge then gave the jury final instructions.
During closing arguments, defense attorney Lee Rothman argued that because of the alleged political motives of some of the parties involved in the dispute between the sheriff and online reporter Vranesevich, there’s enough reasonable doubt in this case.
“This case is filled with pause and hesitation,” argued Rothman. “He’d pull out a weapon with two other deputies present? Then, let him go on his way? It’s absurd.”
But prosecutor Laurel Brandstetter argued the sheriff, even though he denied the threats, was indeed capable of making those threats.
“You have a man in a uniform, bragging about a blackjack, waving a gun,” said the prosecutor. “That’s the threat. It’s the entire meeting. It was a show of force.”
The jury was charged with deciding whether the sheriff was guilty of making terroristic threats, simple assault by physical menace and witness intimidation. They found him not guilty on all counts.
A conviction on any of those charges would not have meant an automatic removal from office. The law is only specific about automatic removal from office upon conviction of felonies. David’s charges were misdemeanors.
KDKA’s Harold Hayes Reports:
Thursday, David took the stand in his own defense.
He testified that Vranesevich told him his story was the first step in bringing down a public official.
Ambridge Police Chief James Mann was called to the stand Thursday morning before David’s testimony. Mann testified that David once asked him whether he could use his influence to reinstate online reporter Vranesevich’s partner, Brad Davis. Davis, a former Ambridge Police officer, had been suspended for “horsing around” with another officer early on Christmas morning in 2011.
David was also accused of threatening to cut off the hands of a political campaign worker.
Initially, David was facing 11 misdemeanor charges including obstruction of justice, intimating witnesses and terroristic threats.