AMERICAN FORK -- After less than three hours of deliberation, a jury re-entered a bright American Fork courtroom and cleared Richard Davis of trying to run down a teenage girl and her mother.
The jury's decision came after three days of trial, and it means Davis is not guilty of two third-degree felonies for assault, as well as two class B misdemeanors for criminal mischief and trespassing.
Defense attorney Jim Bradshaw said Friday afternoon that the jury got the case exactly right and that Davis was pleased with the result.
"He's very relieved and appreciative of the jury's efforts," Bradshaw said.
During closing arguments Friday morning, Bradshaw focused on the state's responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Davis had committed assault and other crimes when he ran over a fence on Nov. 6, 2010, in a rural area near West Mountain. The fence divided Davis's property from that of the Argyle family, which had a long history of conflict with Davis.
The incident prosecutors described as an assault occurred when Davis found out the Argyles were in the midst of moving a fence. The family was installing T posts and stretching wire when Davis found out, drove to the area and knocked down a series of posts with his Chevrolet truck. Much of the trial focused on the ownership of the land where the fence was located, though both Davis and the Argyle family insisted they own the area. At least one expert concluded that Davis was likely the proper owner, though the issue ultimately remained unclear.
Prosecutors had argued that Davis's actions critically endangered 14-year-old Megan Argyle and her mother Brenda. However, Bradshaw repeatedly argued that while running over the fence may have been reckless it didn't endanger anyone and it occurred on Davis's property.
"Mr. Davis believed it was his property and he was defending it," Bradshaw said during his closing arguments.
Bradshaw also argued that the state failed to adequately investigate the incident or explore Davis's side of the story. A Utah County Sheriff's deputy responded to the scene and allowed the Argyles to complete their statements unsupervised overnight, which Bradshaw said Friday led the family to make "legal conclusions" rather than descriptive statements of what had happened. Davis was charged 11 days later, Bradshaw said, without ever being properly involved in an investigation into what happened.
Bradshaw went on to point out that Cliff Argyle, Brenda's husband and Megan's father, was also at the scene and happens to be a captain in the Provo Police Department. Bradshaw reiterated after the trial that there was at least the appearance that Cliff's position could have influenced the case.
Prosecutor Chad Grunander said after the trial that he was disappointed with the outcome but respected the jury's decision. Grunander's own closing arguments had zeroed in on the details of the incident itself. He repeatedly recalled how Davis had downshifted his 6,000-pound pickup truck as he drove over the fence posts and toward the Argyle family.
"He turned in as he was approaching Megan and Brenda," Grunander told the jury. "He absolutely did attempt to cause bodily injury."
Though Bradshaw spent considerable time discussing the long-running property conflicts that precipitated the incident, Grunander characterized that information as a red herring. He called on the jury to keep in mind that a vehicle can be considered a deadly weapon and that Davis's actions amounted to deadly force.
"Vehicles kill," Grunander said. "Vehicles can kill when they're used in this way. This amounts to a man who tried to run people down."
Grunander also told the jury that Davis had admitted to hitting the fence in order to "make a statement" and could have been going as fast as 20 or 25 mph as he hit the fence, an estimate Davis himself has denied.
But the jury was evidently persuaded by Bradshaw, who also repeatedly emphasized Davis shouldn't be convicted if anyone on the jury had doubts. The verdict officially concludes the case.