The Ryan Frederick Trial: Jurors Deliberate


Yesterday, both sides in the Ryan Frederick trial made their closing arguments. This morning, the jury will begin their deliberations.

Ryan Frederick is the 28-year-old Chesapeake, Virginia man facing murder charges for killing a police officer during a drug raid (see this wiki for more on Frederick's case). Prior coverage of his trial here

If you've been following the case, I'd encourage you read coverage from the Virginian-Pilot, and from the local Tidewater Liberty blog.

Some wrap-up odds and ends from the last few days of the trial:

• Last week, the defense called seven of Frederick's neighbors, one of whom was outside the night of the raid. All said they heard no police announcement, though neighbors did testify about hearing the battering ram.

• There's more significance to the neighbors' testimony than merely whether or not Frederick should have heard an announcement, though that's obviously important. The state made Frederick out to be a big-time drug dealer. Police informant Steven Wright said he bought marijuana from Frederick dozens of times over just a few months. That's dozens of drug deals from just one guy. Yet the police affidavit notes that surveillance on Frederick's home showed no unusual activity. And Frederick's neighbors—people who you'd think would want a hardened, drug-dealing, cop-killing neighbor out of their community—have not only defended him in the media, they've testified in his defense at his trial.

• The Virginian-Pilot's John Hopkins has done a splendid job covering this case. I've rarely seen a local reporter cover a botched raid so well. Hopkins refused to take police statements about the raid at face value. He did his own reporting, and uncovered some significant flaws in the case. At the start of the trial, Special Prosecutor Paul Ebert put Hopkins on his witness list, which effectively barred Hopkins from the courtroom, which meant he could no longer report on the case. But Ebert never called Hopkins to testify. Sneaky way to get a good reporter off your butt.

• The person who could shed the most light on the truth in this case never testified. That would be Renaldo Turnbull, the informant/burglar that Hopkins and I interviewed. That he didn't testify isn't surprising. He wouldn't have been helpful to either side. The state would have to deal with his revelations to Hopkins and I that the police were encouraging their informants to illegally break into homes to collect probable cause. Once the judge ruled before the trial that the search warrant for Frederick's home was valid, Frederick's attorneys no longer had much of a reason to bring up Turnbull's allegations. They would have had to deal with a guy who's still facing a host of his own criminal charges, and is at the mercy of the state. There's also obviously a huge risk to the defense in going after the integrity of the police, particularly the integrity of the cop your client admits to shooting.

If there's ever an outside investigation of the issues that have surfaced in this case (and there really should be), Turnbull ought to be the first person investigators speak to, and the first to whom they grant immunity.

• Frederick's biggest problem is that in the interviews he gave with police shortly after the raid, he misled them about growing marijuana. I could be mistaken, but from what I can tell, he didn't out and out lie—he said there were no marijuana plants in his home at the time of the raid, and there weren't. But he neglected to say he had plants before the break-in by the police informant three nights earlier.

It's not difficult to believe that Frederick both legitimately feared for his life the night of the raid (fearing, perhaps, that informant Steven Wright and friends had come to harm him), and realized that if he admitted in those interrogations to both killing a cop and growing marijuana, his days were numbered.

Of course, Frederick wasn't obligated to talk to the police at all that night. And he certainly wasn't obligated to implicate himself. But that he did talk but then wasn't forthcoming about growing marijuana will almost certainly hurt his credibility with the jury.

• Oddly, at the same time, the recordings of those police interrogations could also save Frederick. They clearly show a frightened, nervous, confused man, who weeps and vomits when he contemplates that he's just taken another life. They don't depict the enraged, calculating cop killer prosecutors tried to make Frederick out to be.

• Yesterday, the judge decided to allow the jury to consider lesser charges for Frederick, including first and second degree murder, and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The prosecution consented to adding the lesser charges.

On the one hand, this would seem to show that the prosecution isn't all that confident in its case (which, if true, would be one of the few signs of intelligence they've shown in two weeks). On the other hand, allowing for lesser charges also gives the jury the option of holding Frederick culpable for (a) growing marijuana, and (b) killing a law enforcement officer who had come to his home because of that marijuana, while at the same time giving them the sense that they're punishing the police for poor procedure, and the prosecutors for their insulting performance in court. 

If I had to make a prediction, I'd say the jury convicts on both the drug and gun charge, and convicts Frederick of some sort of manslaughter. The state didn't prove distribution (their only evidence that Frederick grew the marijuana for anything other than personal use was testimony from their lying informant), but I could see the jury wanting to punish Frederick for lying to the police. A murder charge in Virginia requires proof of malice, and the only evidence the state offered of malice, again, came from informants with criminal records who were shown at trial to be repeated liars. Frederick's taped interrogations, on the other hand, clearly show remorse.

Whatever the jury decides, this is an ugly tragedy all around. And entirely preventable. Amazing how paternalism can so quickly manifest itself as bloodshed. The last couple of weeks have embodied so many of the insidious elements of the drug war, from the home invasions to the informant tips and shoddy police investigations to the jailhouse snitch testimony and the chilling, horrifying feeling that with one life ended and another effectively ruined, we've been through all of this before. And it's just a matter of time before we go through it all again.