(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely) [Order this photo]
Matthew Patterson was convicted of reckless endangerment for the August 2009 death of Anthony "Rooster" Marlin.
Marlin was killed at a party near Unionville in the early morning hours of Aug. 26 after Patterson applied a choke hold on him at the end of an evening of drinking.
The jury took a little over two and a half hours to deliver the verdict to the lesser charge. They also found Patterson not guilty of the reckless homicide charge, as well as not guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
Reckless endangerment is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of 11 months, 29 days. A sentencing hearing for Patterson is set for Aug. 5.
With a dozen Bedford County deputies standing in the courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell told family members from both sides he would not tolerate any outbursts when the verdict was read and that they should leave if they could not contain themselves.
Tears flowed on both sides of the courtroom when the jury returned with their verdict.
After the reading of the verdict, Russell allowed the jury to depart first, followed a few minutes later by Patterson's family, and then Marlin's relatives, to avoid any tense situations.
Members of Marlin's family were openly weeping after the verdict was read, and many hugged assistant district attorney Mike Randles, thanking him for his efforts.
Marlin's mother, Barbara Thompson, appeared disgusted by the verdict.
"I guess in Shelbyville you can get by with it," she said. "I don't have my son, he didn't get charged with hardly nothing. I can look at their son, I can't look at mine, he killed somebody."
"He killed my son. It ain't right."
Randles said he was disappointed for the Marlin family, but respected the decision made by the jury.
"They (the jury) has a tough of a job as anybody in the courtroom, and I always respect their decision," Randles said. "But I feel for that family."
During closing arguments, Randles said the charge of reckless homicide was "pretty simply to understand," adding there was no proof that Patterson intended to kill Marlin, but that using the choke hold presented a risk of major injury and was reckless.
Randles reminded the jury of the testimony of the three eyewitnesses and that despite them telling him to stop his hold, they had to pull him off of Marlin.
The autopsy evidence also "paints a picture of what (Patterson) did," with Randles pointing out that the broken bone in Marlin's neck was buried deep with muscle tissue and that the inside of his windpipe was also damaged.
Randles also reminded jurors about Patterson's actions after learning Marlin died -- calling his father saying he may have killed someone, hiring an attorney and only submitting a written statement two and a half months after the incident.
The D.A. said that while Patterson was not provoked by Marlin, he did disregard the risk of the choke hold, "was clearly reckless and he clearly killed Rooster."
But defense attorney John Norton suggested that the act of three of the eyewitnesses pulling Patterson off of Marlin actually caused the fatal injury, which caused Marlin's family to become visibly upset.
Norton said that there was nothing sinister about what happened that night, reading a part of the autopsy report that described the horseplay and repeatedly telling jurors "this was an accident, nothing more, nothing less."
Norton also attacked the testimony of Dennis Jernigan, who said he saw Patterson put his arms around Marlin's neck. He also blasted detective Scott Jones for not mentioning that in his notes.
"I don't think he was telling the truth," Norton said of Jernigan's testimony.
But Randles pointed out that Norton left out the key part of the autopsy report which called the death a homicide.
He also accused Norton of creating a "trilogy of fiction" to explain Marlin's death, with the first defense being that bad CPR caused the death.
"It would have to be the worst CPR in the history," Randles said.
The "second fiction" was Norton's suggestion that a tree branch caused the fatal injury, for which there was no evidence, Randles said.
"You might as well say that Bigfoot clocked him in the wood," Randles quipped.
The "third fiction" was Norton's suggestion that Patterson being pulled off by the three eyewitnesses was the cause of the death.
Randles also told Patterson that it was time for him to "just man up, take responsibility ... you've got to own this."
The D.A. used the example of people found guilty of DUIs who injure someone while intoxicated.
"He drank, he choked, and killed somebody," Randles concluded. "It might have been Matt's worst day, but it was Rooster's last day."