GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The trial of a man charged with the attempted murder of two Clay County police officers began Tuesday. Tomy Lee Byrd, 48, of Orange Park, faces two counts of attempted murder …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The trial of a man charged with the attempted murder of two Clay County police officers began Tuesday. Tomy Lee Byrd, 48, of Orange Park, faces two counts of attempted murder of a police officer, two counts of attempted felony murder, one count each of burglary and battery on a firefighter.
The charges stem from a July 2016 incident where Byrd is alleged to have stolen a cartful of items from the Walmart at 899 Blanding Blvd. He was pulled over by a Clay County Sheriff’s deputy due to his vehicle matching witness descriptions.
Officers confirmed that the items in Byrd’s vehicle matched the items taken from the store. After confirmation was made, Byrd attempted to flee the scene, struck one officer with his vehicle and ran over another officer.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Sharrit presided over opening statements by the prosecution and defense as the trial began.
In his opening arguments, Assistant State Attorney Hector Murcia said the July 30, 2016 incident began on what was described as an “ordinary day.”
“But that ordinary day for so many, quickly turned into a nightmare at the hands of the defendant,” said Murcia.
Murcia told the jury that the events began as a “textbook robbery.”
“There was no running in, guns blazing or anything like that. But the defendant was leaving Walmart with those items and he didn’t care who was in his way,” said Murcia.
Murcia emphasized that point by repeatedly stating that the Walmart greeter who attempted to stop the defendant from leaving, was 71 years old.
He said that the jury would hear from Officer Gary Anderson, the first officer who responded to Walmart, and how he relayed the details of the vehicle and items to other officers in the area.
Murcia introduced the names of two witnesses to the traffic stop, and once again, emphasized that what began as an ordinary day for them, turned into a nightmare as they witnessed the officers struck by the vehicle.
“They saw the defendant’s white Dodge Ram 1500, four-door, four by four, strike the officers and as Ms. White will tell you, ‘the officers just went down’,” said Murcia.
Murcia said that the next two witnesses would be the affected officers themselves, Narcotics Officer Robert Baltean and Deputy David Valler.
Murcia told jurors how Byrd struck Officer Baltean with his vehicle and knocked him to the ground and how Byrd then ran over the legs of Deputy Valler twice before the defendant was able to be stopped. Murcia pointed at Byrd as he said that not only did Byrd run over Deputy Valler’s legs, but Byrd then put his vehicle in reverse and backed over the deputy’s legs again.
Murcia emphasized that the vehicle was off at the beginning of the traffic stop and stated that Byrd deliberately turned the vehicle back on, put it in drive and ran down the officers in an attempt to flee. He also stated that audio from both the radios and vehicle dash cams would allow the jury to hear the screams of Deputy Valler as he was run over.
Murcia told the jury that the final witness they would hear from would be firefighter Justin Dean. Murcia said Dean was just doing his job and attempting to make sure that the defendant was OK but “the defendant was having none of it.” Dean was kicked in the chest by Byrd as he attempted to administer treatment, according to Murcia.
The State ended its opening statement with Garcia stating that the evidence would show that Byrd was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defense Counsel Chuck Simpson began his opening statement by acknowledging that there were several things that they would not contest regarding the case.
“We don’t contest that the defendant stole something from Walmart, resisted a merchant, turned the vehicle on and attempted to drive away or resisted emergency help,” said Simpson.
What was being contested according to Simpson, were the charges of robbery and attempted murder.
Simpson stated that the defendant resisted a merchant, which is a lesser charge and that there was no malicious attempt to injure or kill either officer.
“When the defendant started the vehicle, the deputies reached in and grabbed the wheel, changing the trajectory of the vehicle which led to them being hit,” said Simpson.
In what was a much shorter opening statement than the prosecution, Simpson emphasized the burden of proof was on the State and that the jurors should keep in mind that lesser charges may apply rather than the charges that had been presented.
The trial is expected to last two days.