Ryan Frederick has been charged with first degree murder in the death of Det. Jarrod Shivers and with the linked ‘use of a firearm in a felony’ and, at his preliminary hearing, those charges have been ‘certified to the Grand Jury.’ But what does that really mean?
Grand Jury proceedings don’t make for good TV, so for most people, their operations are a mystery. They meet in secret to consider whether the formal charges made by the Commonwealth’s Attorney, called a Bill of Indictment, are supported by the evidence presented to them by the prosecutor. The defense does not get to present any counter arguments or provide any witnesses. In most cases, presented with only one side of the story, the Grand Jury can be expected to return a “True Bill” endorsing the indictment, but if, in the course of examining the evidence provided to them, questioning the witnesses, and applying impartial common sense, they do not believe the evidence, seen even in the most favorable light to the prosecution, supports the charge, they can return a “No True Bill” and the case cannot be brought to trial. This is supposed to provide a check and balance to an overly zealous or politically motivated prosecutor, however, since a ‘No True Bill’ does not invoke double jeopardy, the Commonwealth’s Attorney can just take the same charge and witnesses to a new Grand Jury, and keep doing so, until he gets the ruling he wants or a judge decides to dismiss the charges with prejudice.
Still, a Grand Jury is expected to apply common sense to the facts of the case as presented by the witnesses, and common sense has so far been lacking in the handling of this matter, so why don’t we here act as Grand Juror’s and apply some reason to the events and see if they rise to the level of premeditated first degree murder under any rational examination of the facts.
For the purpose of this exercise, lets take Det. Kiley Roberts’ testimony as the absolute truth from the police point of view (I will examine so concerns about his credibility in a future post) and establish a set of “facts” to work from. Det. Roberts told us that a team of policemen went to Frederick’s home to serve a search warrant. At least one policeman knocked on the door and announced “Police, Search Warrant, Open the door” four times in about 12 to 15 seconds, then when some other policeman saw a “change in a light” and heard dogs barking in the house, shouted “8 ball, 8 ball,” a code to warn other policemen that the occupant of the house was aware they were there (which would seem to be the point of the knocking and announcing) and to knock down the door immediately without giving Frederick the opportunity to come to the door. The policeman swinging the battering ram missed the lock and sent the ram through into the house through one of the lower panels in the door. According to Roberts, two shots were then fired from inside the house, the first striking Det. Shivers who was near the base of the steps to the house.
So, accepting all of that as true, applying common sense, can we find anything there that will support a charge of premeditated murder?
What must be proved is that Frederick knew it was a policeman and not a criminal attempting to break down his door. What the policemen say they said before breaking the door is irrelevant. Only what Frederick heard matters. How does testimony from a policeman outside the house prove what was in Frederick’s mind?
Had they taken measures to be certain he had heard them, like using amplification, such as a bull horn, to announce or turning on the siren in the police car for a few seconds, then we could assume he had to have heard, but they did not. So, can they prove he heard them at all, within 12 to 15 seconds of waking from a sound sleep, with two large dogs barking loudly? To me, common sense says no. The burden of proof here is on the police to assure us that he did in fact know it was them at the door, and lacking psychic powers I don’t see how, with no overt acts on Frederick’s part to initiate the confrontation, it can be proved he knew he was not under attack by criminals.
One could argue that he should have waited until he was sure it was not the police before shooting. I would disagree as had it been criminals, waiting would have decreased his chance of survival, but even if you believe he should have taken that risk, that would at most be negligence, and thus manslaughter, and not premeditated murder.
So, here’s my challenge. If any reader can propose a rational train of thought that could lead a Grand Juror to support a charge of premeditated murder based on the facts as stated by Det. Roberts, please lay it out for me.