Monday, June 24, 2024

Closing arguments set for Thursday in police officer’s manslaughter trial

Bryon Vance Vassey
Bryon Vance Vassey

Closing arguments in the bench trial of a Southport police officer charged in the shooting death of a mentally ill teen were delayed Wednesday for the court to hear arguments for jury instruction.

Bryon Vassey, 46, is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Keith Vidal, a mentally ill teen diagnosed with schizophrenia. Vassey is accused of fatally shooting the teen at his Boiling Spring Lakes home on Jan. 5. 2014, after the teen’s stepfather called for help. He waived his right to a jury trial and instead chose to have a judge decide his case. 

Judge Richard Brown heard arguments from both sides of the case in Brunswick County Superior Court on Wednesday. After several debates on language issues, the definition of “use of force” and proposals of state and federal case law for the jury’s instruction, Brown recessed court to consider the arguments and hand-write the instructions as he “sees fit.” Brown may consider law on charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

Brown’s decision on the instructions will be heard when court resumes Thursday morning. The court needs to establish instructions for the judge to consider, so both the prosecution and defense can argue the charges set forth in those instructions during their closing statements.

The trial, which began April 19, marked its eleventh day Wednesday. The court heard from nine state witnesses and four defense witnesses in the case before the defense rested Tuesday after hearing testimony from Vassey.  At the time of the shooting, Vassey was a detective sergeant with the Southport Police Department. He has been on unpaid leave since just after the shooting.

Before court broke for recess on Wednesday, Judge Brown thanked those in the courtroom for following the rules he’d set as the trial began. Since that time the courtroom’s seats have been filled with family and friends of both Vidal and Vassey. Speaking to the depth of emotion that this case has for many in the audience, Brown warned, “tomorrow may be a tough day.”

Brown said Thursday’s closing statements in the case could bring some “emotional arguments,” as he shared with them what a jury would normally hear from a judge in considering all the evidence in the case for their deliberation. As the jury in Vassey’s case, Brown said he will be following the same rules to decide Vassey’s fate and will use only his own recollection of events and evidence as presented in court during trial.

“To the best of my ability I have been taking notes and have been paying attention to this, and I am well aware of my responsibility to recall the evidence and to apply the law in this case,” Brown said.

The bench trial will resume Thursday morning with Brown’s decision on the jury instructions followed by closing arguments. Port City Daily reporter Christina Haley is covering the trial. Check back for more details from the courtroom. 

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