A man accused of brandishing a gun in a western North Dakota courtroom and unsuccessfully trying to kill jurors, a sheriff and a prosecutor told a jury Wednesday he forgot the weapon was in his pants and he panicked after he was found guilty of child molestation.
The case of Vicente Chacano went to a jury of six men and six women Wednesday afternoon after prosecutor Brian Grosinger called Chacano's testimony a lie and asked the panel to find him guilty on all 14 counts of attempted of murder. Jurors deliberated for about 21/2 hours before going home for the day.
Chacano, a Chilean native who was working in southwest North Dakota as a farmhand, is accused of bringing a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and 38 bullets into the Adams County Courthouse in Hettinger on Feb. 4, 2011. Prosecutors said Chacano pulled the trigger several times, but the gun never fired. He was subdued by Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers, the prosecutor at the time, and Eugene Molbert, the county sheriff.
The case, which sparked demands for tighter security in courtrooms, was moved to Fargo, across the state from Hettinger.
Chacano's testimony Wednesday morning ranged from animated to rambling. He stood up on several occasions and used hand gestures to try and show how events unfolded in the Hettinger courtroom. At one point, Judge Steven McCullough interrupted the defendant and said, "We need to tighten this up."
Through interpreters standing next to him, Chacano cited a stomach illness, stress from the first trial and badgering from his ex-wife as factors in the gun incident. Chacano said he was in a hurry to get to court that day and forgot that he had the gun he said was purchased to protect his chickens.
"I wanted to get rid of the weapon. I just wanted to take off," he testified Wednesday.
Chacano said he couldn't find a way out of the courtroom and felt "electricity in my body, a pain and my head." He said the next thing he remembers is being face-down on the floor with Byers and Molbert on top of him.
"I just remember going around here," he said, motioning to an area of the Fargo courtroom as a comparison to the Hettinger courtroom. "And I lost control. I just wanted it to be over."
Grosinger started his closing argument by playing a 5-minute audio recording of the courtroom chaos after Chacano pulled out the gun. The prosecutor named all 12 jurors in his closing argument and highlighted testimony by a Hettinger court official who said none of the jurors made it out of the courtroom before Chacano was tackled. And he emphasized the 38 bullets.
"He didn't need all 38 to take care of Mr. Byers," Grosinger said.
"The defendant's testimony was a lie," he added.
Rob Quick, a public defender, said in his closing statement that witnesses gave inconsistent testimony _ including whether Chacano aimed the weapon at jurors _ and prosecutors failed to show there was a "strong intent" to kill anyone.
"The Adams County Courthouse in a 5-second span erupted into a screaming, yelling and confusing mess," Quick said. "The witnesses testified to very different versions of the same event."
Chacano was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the sex crime. He is appealing that conviction. He faces 20 years in prison on each of the attempted murder charges, although the sentence could be enhanced because it involved a firearm.
Jurors interrupted deliberation twice Wednesday, first to hear the audio recording again, and then to ask whether they could have transcripts of testimony by Byers and Molbert. McCullough said jurors needed to be more specific about reviewing the testimony and sent them home.
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