Officer charged in shooting death of mentally ill teen waives right to jury trial

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Bryon Vance Vassey
Bryon Vance Vassey

A Southport police officer charged with the January 2014 death of a mentally ill teenager is scheduled for a bench trial in April, following a judge’s approval to waive his right to a jury trial this week.

During a hearing in Brunswick County Superior Court on Monday, Superior Court Judge Richard T. Brown ruled in favor of the defense motion to waive a jury trial in the case of Bryon Vassey, a nine-year veteran of the Southport Police Department, who is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Keith Vidal.

According to Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger, who is prosecuting the case for the state, the prosecution wanted a jury trial to decide the case because the incident was “a public issue.” But, after hearing arguments from both the prosecution and defense, the judge granted the defendant’s waiver.

Vidal, a mentally ill teenager who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot at his family’s home on Presidents Drive in Boiling Spring Lakes on Jan. 5, 2014. Mark and Mary Wilsey—Vidal’s stepfather and mother—called 911 because they were concerned for the teen’s safety, according to District Attorney Jon David. Vassey was reportedly the last of three officers who responded to the Vidal family home that afternoon, when shots were fired.

Vassey was indicted on the voluntary manslaughter charge in February 2014, when David brought the case before a grand jury. The grand jurors decided on the charge after David presented evidence to consider multiple charges: probable cause to charge Vassey with second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or not to charge him at all.

A defendant’s right to waive a jury trial and instead be tried by a judge was approved by North Carolina voters in November 2014. That right was brought forward as an amendment to the state’s constitution by the North Carolina legislature, put to voters on the 2014 ballot.  The measure permits only criminal defendants who are not facing the death penalty to waive this right and requires consent from a judge.

Read related story: N.C. voters approve constitutional amendment to waive jury trial

Vassey’s trial was originally scheduled to take place this week, but on Feb. 8, Brown granted a defense motion to continue the trial until the spring. The trial is now scheduled to take place in Brunswick County Superior Court on April 18 with Brown presiding. Vassey is being represented by attorneys James Payne, Megan Milliken and Michael McGuinness.

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