NORWICH – A Coventry man was acquitted Tuesday by a jury of his peers following a two day trial in Chenango County Court.
In November 2013, Kevin D. Nickerson was indicted on the class D violent felony of menacing a police officer or peace officer. He was also indicted on the charge of menacing in the second degree, a class A misdemeanor.
Following the reading of the jury’s verdict, Nickerson was free to go.
The trial began Monday, June 1, 2015 with jury selection in the morning. A full jury was chosen by the end of that morning.
Following a lunch break, the trial then commenced with opening statements by Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride.
McBride, in his opening statement to the jury, described his version of what the prosecution’s evidence would show.
McBride explained that the evidence would show that on Aug. 30, 2014, numerous law enforcement officials arrived at Nickerson’s home in Coventry after a 911 call was received alleging domestic violence and the discharging of a firearm. Jurors heard from McBride that officers arrived on the scene and made contact with Nickerson’s girlfriend, and that Nickerson had smashed the front window of the residence and was inside the home threatening to kill himself and begging officers to kill him.
McBride continued by telling the jury that the evidence would show that officers attempted to talk Nickerson down to get him to come out of the residence and surrender himself, yet the defendant refused.
The DA explained to the jury that the standoff lasted between one and a half to two hours, and that Nickerson engaged in ongoing discussions with the members of law enforcement on the scene.
To the jury McBride said the defendant then loaded a Marlin 30-30 rifle and held it to his chin, then pointed it at Chenango County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Anthony Lawrence. McBride said the evidence would show that Nickerson told Lawrence “I’m going to fill you full of lead,” or words to that effect.
The prosecutor continued his opening by relaying that the defendant continued to refuse to leave his home and surrender, and that Nickerson demanded to speak with his friend, New York State Police Sergeant Todd Phillips. Phillips then arrived on the scene and talked Nickerson down. Nickerson walked outside and surrendered himself without incident.
Opening statements from the defense counsel were next, and Nickerson was represented by S.Francis Williams of Cortland.
The defense provided the jury with some details the led up to Nickerson’s encounter with the police on that day.
Williams said that Nickerson, his girlfriend, and his 83-year-old father had just returned from Pennsylvania that day in August 2013. Williams told the jury the three had been there on business, a family trucking business in which Nickerson, his girlfriend, and father are all participants.
Williams told the jury that while at a convenience store, Nickerson’s father began groping the defendant’s girlfriend and making inappropriate advances toward her while in the car, while Nickerson was inside the convenience store to buy cigarettes.
Defense counsel went on to say that Nickerson’s girlfriend did not share the information of the advances from his father until they returned home in Coventry.
Williams said to the jury that Nickerson was already under stress due to the poor state of his trucking company, took the news to heart, ran into his home, locked the doors, fired two shots out of the back window of his home, and smashed the front window.
Defense counsel said that Nickerson’s girlfriend engaged in conversation with him from the front yard, as Nickerson had verbalized intentions to kill himself.
Police arrived at the home, surrounded the residence, and Williams told the jury some police had drawn their guns. Williams added that Nickerson repeatedly told the officers he wanted to die, and even begged them to shoot him.
Williams then told the jury that Nickerson turned on heavy metal music loudly and began dancing and jumping around his living room in an attempt to vent his frustrations. Defense counsel said Nickerson had his guitar in hand.
Nickerson’s attorney also added that his client engaged law enforcement in conversations, some of which even elicited laughter from the officers.
Williams claimed that his client denies ever pointing a gun at any officer, and denies ever saying he wanted to fill anyone full of lead, or any words to that effect.
Williams said his client’s defense was simple: he did not menace a police officer.
Following the opening statements came the prosecution’s witnesses. The case included testimony from NYSP Sergeant Todd Phillips, CCSO Sergeant Ted Ellingsen and CCSO deputy Anthony Lawrence. The law enforcement employees testified under oath to their respective roles in the events as they unfolded throughout the standoff.
The prosecution then rested on Monday.
When the trial resumed Tuesday, two were set to testify for the defense: Nickerson, the defendant, and Sarah Maldonado, Nickerson’s girlfriend.
Nickerson testified under oath to the unsettling events that led up to the incident between his father and his girlfriend. Nickerson said he was admittedly upset, and admitted to wanting to die.
Nickerson additionally admitted to loading the rifle and holding it to his chin.
The defendant denied ever pointing the firearm at any officer, and also denied making any threats of harm to the officers.
Nickerson did tell the jury that he played loud music and jumped around his living room with his guitar, all while visible to the law enforcement surrounding his home.
He admitted to having shot the firearm twice out the back window of his home, and to smashing the front window as a means of venting his anger and frustration.
Nickerson said he did both of those things before law enforcement arrived.
The defendant said that he and Sergeant Phillips were friends and that he had trusted him, which was why he demanded to speak with him before he would surrender himself.
Nickerson denied any intent or attempt to threaten any officer present.
Maldonado testified for the jury that she was able to view and hear the events as they unfolded because of her proximity to the home, Nickerson, and the officers. Maldonado denied that Nickerson made any verbal threats to officers, and denied that he pointed the firearm at any officer.
McBride said with regard to the trial, “The defendant testified he was intoxicated and under the influence of drugs at the time, and said he only pointed his guitar at the officers.”
Next came rebuttal, where McBride called two more witnesses, Chenango County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Richard Cobb and Chenango County Sheriff’s Office deputy Nathan Warner.
The law enforcement employees testified that Maldonado was placed in a CCSO vehicle for the duration of the encounter, approximately 100 yards from the residence, and that Maldonado’s view of the defendant, law enforcement and the residence would have been obstructed.
Following the closing statements by both the McBride and Williams, Chenango County Court Judge Frank B. Revoir Jr. charged the jury with their official duties and the law applicable to the case. The jury then was escorted to the jury room for deliberations.
The jury sent back some questions to the Court, including a request for a read back of some testimony.
Within approximately two hours the jury returned with a not guilty verdict on both charges.
Following said verdict, Revoir thanked the jurors for their willingness to perform their important civic duty and they were allowed to leave.
If Nickerson had been found guilty of the charge of menacing a police officer, a class D felony, the only authorized sentence would have been a minimum of two years and maximum of eight years in the New York State Department of Corrections. The maximum sentence for the menacing in the second degree charge would have been one year in the county jail.
“I am obviously disappointed with the verdict,” said McBride. “But I am very proud of the officers for giving their testimony, thank the officers for their service and for de-escalating the situation and taking Nickerson to a psychiatric hospital for help.”
McBride added, “While I am disappointed with the verdict, it is how the system works and we move on to the next case.”
As the jury found Nickerson not guilty, he was able to leave the courtroom.