Lionel A. Michaud - who pleaded guilty to killing a man and agreed to serve a year in jail for it - was instead allowed to go home Thursday night a free man.
A 3rd District jury declared him not guilty of murdering a man who disrupted a barbecue this past July. Michaud's supporters smiled and hugged each other when the verdict was announced, while the dead man's family and friends looked shocked.A poll of the three-man, five-woman jury showed the verdict was unanimous.
"I hope they can live with their consciences," a relative of the victim, John Spina, said as she left the courthouse.
Defense attorneys Lynn Donaldson and Patrick Anderson said that inconsistencies in witnesses' testimonies probably contributed to the verdict.
"Everybody saw something a little different. I think they believed (Michaud) was really frightened," Anderson said.
Michaud, a 35-year-old Taylorsville father of three, was manager of the Midtowne Apartments, 254 S. 300 East. He was in charge of an apartment barbecue on July 26 when Spina and William Fields - two people he'd never seen before - showed up and began causing trouble.
Spina picked a fight with tenant Morris Harding. But witnesses gave conflicting testimony about the events that followed.
Michaud, who testified Thursday, said he repeatedly told Spina he didn't want any trouble. But Spina continued to assault Harding, so Michaud ordered him to leave.
He said Fields turned to him and said, "Don't, bro. He's got a gun." Michaud said Spina had an object in his front pocket. "To me, it appeared to be a barrel of a gun."
Michaud testified he pulled his gun from his back pocket after Spina pushed Harding into a hot barbecue grill. Spina look at Michaud and patted his pocket.
"I thought he said, `I have one, too,' " Michaud said.
The defendant said he fired a warning shot into the ground. Spina then appeared angry and went after him. Michaud said he fired the gun again at Spina after he thought Spina was trying to pull a gun from his pocket.
But Salt Lake County deputy attorney Glenn Iwasaki reminded jurors that no gun was ever found on Spina. Michaud admitted that he never saw a weapon.
Iwasaki argued that it was Michaud who was the aggressor, because he had the gun. And Fields never told Michaud that Spina had a weapon, he said. "What Fields was saying was to Spina - `John, let's go. He's got a gun.' "
When police first arrived, Michaud told them he didn't know what had happened because he was inside. "Initially, he denies that he knows anything about what happened," Iwasaki said.
After admitting he was the gunman, Michaud told police he went into the apartment to retrieve his gun after seeing Spina hit Harding. Thursday, however, Michaud admitted that he always had the weapon with him.
"Why did he lie to the detective? Because he wanted to make himself look better in everyone's eyes, minimizing what he's done," Iwasaki said.
Iwasaki balked at the statement that Michaud fired a warning shot into the ground. Spina was hit by two bullets, and a medical examiner testified that the shots could not have ricocheted off anything. Four bullets were left in the six-bullet magazine, but Donaldson argued there could have been a seventh bullet in the chamber, and Michaud could have fired twice after the warning shot.
The prosecutor said the law does not allow someone to kill a man just because he breaks up a barbecue or is profane.
"This isn't Dodge City," Iwasaki said. "The police (who have a station a half-block from the scene of crime) could have run over to the Midtowne Apartments in less time than it took to shoot John Spina."
Iwasaki said the most telling part of Michaud's statements to police were when he said, "No, I realize I screwed up here. I did not actually see a weapon."