Bernell Butler acquitted of felony charges

by mary shelton Friday, Feb. 16, 2001 at 9:49 AM

Last week, the political prosecution of Bernell Butler came to a close as a jury acquitted him of six felony and misdemeanor charges, and convicting him of one added lessor charge of misdemeanor simple assault.

The courtroom became silent, as the clerk of the court repeated the verdicts of not-guilty in the case of the State of California v Bernell Butler. He was acquitted of four felony charges including domestic assault and assault with a deadly weapon, as well as two misdemeanor assaults involving the Rev. Paul Munford. The jury found him quilty of a lessor simple assault charge which had been added to the jury instructions by prosecutor Brian Sussman.

"I knew I was innocent. They were selectively prosecuting me, throwing all these charges at me, and hoping they would stick," Butler said, after hearing the verdicts. His wife, Ramona Butler who had recanted her allegations of domestic abuse during the trial embraced him as did his son, Jerel Butler. Butler added that he is going to urge the State Attorney General Bill Lockyer to do an investigation against the Riverside County District Attorney's office to see if it engaged in any wrongdoing. Attorney Mark Blankenship was happy with the verdict, and said it was a victory to get acquittals on every charge originally filed by the prosecution.

A male juror said the jury could not convict Butler on any of the charges. While three of them believed that something may have happened, they did not believe that a crimal act had been committed regarding either incident. "It was hard believe given the description of the assault on the videotape, that there would not have been more evidence of serious injuries," the juror said, regarding the alleged assault involving Ramona Butler. On the simple assault charge, nine had wanted to acquit but bowed to the wishes of a staunch minority to avoid a hung verdict. They all agreed that if the simple assault charge had not been an option, they would never have convicted him of anything.

The case involving Butler was a highly charged political trial. Every day, prosecutors flocked and sat and snickered inside the courtroom. At the reading of the verdict, there were 30 prosecutors in the courtroom, and all of them filed silently out, frowns on their faces, upon hearing the verdicts of acquittal. Criticism had been expressed against them for sitting in a courtroom for hours on the tax payer's dollar. When asked how much the typical salary was for a entry DA, one prosecutor refused to comment, suggesting that a freedom of information act request be filed. However, according to the Human Resources dept. for Riverside County, the entry salary range for a prosecutor is $26-32/hour with supervisors making up to $52/hour.

Judge Edward D. Webster, a former prosecutor, appeared upset at the verdict, as he had been for most of the trial. Harsh criticism has been launched his way about his handling of both the trial and his temper, which he lost in front of the jury several times. This was his final criminal trial after 16 years on the bench, and he is heading off for a stint in family court.

The trial ended one stage of the DA's incessent selective prosecution of activists and relatives of Tyisha Miller who have protested against her death at the hands of four police officers in December 1998. Butler still faces a trial on misdemeanor charges stemming from the Nov. 1, 1999 prayer vigil which took place on the 91 freeway. That case has trailed the other one for over a year.

Butler will be sentenced on March 30 on the assault conviction, and faces up to six months in jail and/or a $1000 fine.