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by Mary Shelton
Friday, Feb. 02, 2001 at 9:04 PM
Pastor Ron Gibson refused to answer a question, asked by the prosecutor, and was placed in handcuffs and taken to jail, the latest witness in the prosecution of Bernell Butler.
The trial of Bernell Butler continued this week, with more fireworks, as Pastor Ron Gibson was handcuffed and taken into a holding cell, after presiding judge Edward D. Webster cited him for contempt of court, for refusing to answer a question, according to a judicial ruling.
"I will not take part in the railroading of this man, out of revenge for him firing the four officers responsible for killing Tyisha Miller," Gibson said on the stand, after defense attorney Mark Blankenship had asked him a question about the composition of an association of churches, and prosecutor Brian Sussman had objected. After Webster during recess explained his position, Gibson called him a racist and a bigot, and was then handcuffed and taken to jail, by two sheriffs. After Webster had left to cool off for fifteen minutes, he returned and upon urging by Blankenship released Gibson. Sussman objected strenuously to allowing Gibson to continue his testimony. "He has proven he can not answer the questions, follow the rules, because he has an agenda," Sussman said. "He is without fear and says what comes to mind." Webster signed, and told the lawyers, that he did not want to be assigned this trial. "two weeks ago, I could have been in family court, and I wish I were," he said, regarding his reassigment. Gibson was allowed to continue, but was baited by Sussman, who repeatedly asked as a question, are you threatening me, am I a racist? Gibson said, if you say it, must be true.
Webster, in his 16 years on the bench, had never arrested a witness for contempt, but Gibson was the second in less than a week. The first defense witness Henry Smith, was threatened with arrest and five days in jail for refusing to answer a question about who he ate breakfast with, the morning of his testimony. "what does that have to do with anything," he asked Webster.
Witness after witness has recanted the version of events presented by the Reverend Paul Munford that Butler had choked him, by saying that Munford had provoked Butler who had set his hands on his shoulders to calm him down. One witness confessed to choking Munford himself in an effort to restrain him and protect Butler. All of the witnesses for the defense who were members of the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee said that they all were upset with Munford for trying to promote a community night of healing when there was still "glass in the wound." Several testified that they distrusted him for having secret meetings with former Police Chief Jerry Carroll and other civic leaders. The jury sat through it, befuddled but several were overheard in an elevator saying they would miss the trial when it was over.
The trial is well in its second week, and each day, the seats have been filled with prosecutors who snicker and laugh among themselves about what is going on. One prosecutor was overheard making disparaging comments about a female witness in a wheelchair, saying that she probably really didn't need it. In the past week, more deputies have been stationed in the courtroom, now totaling four more than the usual one, with two placed on either side of the courtroom doors.
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