Jurors Acquit Psychedelic Country-Rockers Of All Charges
July 16, 2008
MODESTO, California (CNN) — A California jury has exonerated four members of I See Hawks In L.A. of terrorism, indecency, contamination of public water supply, and public urination charges that could have sent them to prison for 20 years.
The jury deliberated about 22 hours throughout the course of four days before reaching its decision.The clerk of court read the verdicts Monday in a packed courtroom while a small but dedicated crowd of supporters waited outside. Hawks fans cheered, wept and hugged upon hearing the verdicts.
Courtroom observers reported that the band’s drummer Shawn Nourse dabbed his eyes with a tissue after his acquittal.Prosecutors had charged the drummer, along with three other band mates with fourteen counts ranging from public urination to terrorism, stemming from a controversial arrest of the band at a remote stretch of the California Aqueduct.
Kern County District Attorney Thomas Schmeeddon sat grim-faced during the reading of the verdict and said later that he would accept the decision.
“In 37 years [as a prosecutor], I’ve never quibbled with a jury’s verdict, and I’m not going to start today,” Schmeeddon said.Asked if the acquittal ends a rumored federal prosecution of the Hawks, Schmeeddon replied, “No comment.” Schmeeddon’s palpable anger at the verdict may be fueled by lead singer Rob Waller’s public justification of the band’s alleged actions, in a jail cell interview the day after the incident.
Jurors were not convinced by arresting officers’ statements, and cited lack of physical evidence for the acquittal. “The forensics guys couldn’t produce a dirt sample with urine traceable to the suspects. Apparently a lot of people stop at the aqueduct to pee. It’s not just a political thing,” said the jury foreman.Hawk family members accompanied them to the courthouse to hear the verdict and flanked them as they exited the courthouse to the cheering of perhaps a dozen supporters.
Looking light and cheerful, Waller did not address the small throng before leaving the courthouse in a green sport utility vehicle. His lead defense attorney, Tommy Franks Jr., told reporters on his way out of the courthouse that “justice was done.”
“These men are innocent. They always were,” Franks said.CNN’s Rusty Mornin reported that before the clerk of court read the findings, the courtroom was hushed. The only sound was that of the judge tearing open the envelope for each count.
Waller’s father, Robert Waller Sr., sat calmly with hands clasped as he listened to the verdicts, Mornin said.Throughout the trial, Hawks bassist Paul Marshall stared starkly at jurors with no visible signs of emotion, and he showed no reaction to the long litany of aquittals. Kern Superior Court Judge Dabney Miller had previously admonished courtroom observers to restrain themselves at the reading of the verdicts, Mornin reported.
Upon hearing the findings, guitarist Paul Lacques’s family members reached out to touch one another and to support Lacques’s mother, Teresa Lacques, Mornin said.The matriarch shouted and shot her black-gloved fist in the air at hearing the first “not guilty.”
After the verdicts, the judge read a statement from the jury. It stated: “We the jury feel the weight of the world’s eyes upon us.” The jurors asked to return to their “private lives as anonymously as we came.” They later held a news conference, identifying themselves by their full, correctly-spelled names.The attorney for Lisa Lovely, one of Shawn Nourse’s former wives, released a statement from her. “Lisa is overjoyed that the justice system really works, regardless of which side called her to testify at the trial,” it read.
Chain Of EventsToday’s verdicts capped a chain of events that began in late May, after the broadcast of “Drunk, Stoned, and Tired: On the Road with I SEE HAWKS IN L.A.” an unflattering television documentary by British journalist Martin Cashmir.
In the program, Hawks singer Rob Waller is seen ranting about the aqueduct on a rooftop in downtown L.A.On Memorial Day, California authorities searched Waller’s Highland Park home after answering a call by neighbors to break up a “late night stony jam.” Guitarist Dan Janisch was the only arrest resulting, after telling police he “wouldn’t back down to the man.”
Next, a grand jury indicted Waller, a 36-year-old singer/icon/poet/songwriter, in June along with three other band members on charges related to urinating in the California Aqueduct.Waller and the three other Hawks pleaded not guilty to the charges and did not testify during the trial. Testimony and closing arguments stretched nearly 4 days before the jury got the case.
Prosecutors alleged that, following the broadcast of the Cashmir documentary, Waller and Lacques plotted to foul the Southern California water supply. The documentary has not aired in this country.Hawk’s lawyers, however, consistently portrayed the band as naive victims: idealists — dreamers — with a habit of biting off more than they could chew.
Dramatic TestimonyThe Hawks trial was full of salacious testimony, dramatic moments and celebrity defense witnesses.
Among the more than dozen people who testified was fellow country singer Mike Stinson. He disputed testimony from earlier witnesses who claimed they saw drummer Nourse behaving inappropriately at the aqueduct in late 2007 (visit Nourse at his myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/shawnnourse). Journalist Michael Simmons was forcibly removed from the witness stand when he began to read from his sympathetic biography of Unabomber Ted Kazcinski and refused to stop.Bizarre behavior has stamped this story throughout.
On the first day of testimony, Hawks bassist Paul Marshall was a no show at court, and the judge threatened to revoke the bass player’s $30,000 bail. Marshall, claiming he had a back injury severe enough to require a hospital visit, finally came to court in pajamas and slippers, walking gingerly with his wife Colleen supporting him. A further dustup occurred when a loaded pistol was found in Colleen’s purse. A Libertarian Party mini-protest has been dogging the court’s front steps, protesting metal detectors in the U.S. court system.Members of the jury came from a pool of 200 people from Kern County, just north of Los Angeles. The eight-woman, four-man jury ranged in age from 20 to 79, including a 21-year-old male paraplegic who said he once attended an Hawks show at a rodeo in Banning, CA.
“They were all right, I guess. Not real traditional. Not really what moves me. Kinda funny.