By Joe Beck - firstname.lastname@example.org
A Warren County Circuit Court jury Tuesday acquitted a man of two counts of attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer and several lesser charges.
Tony L. Baird, 45, walked out of the courtroom toward life as a free man after also being acquitted of two counts of attempted malicious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer. He had been accused of provoking a sheriff's deputy into shooting him by ramming the squad car of another deputy with his pickup truck.
The jury convicted Baird of felony eluding of a police officer and destruction of property. Judge Dennis L. Hupp gave him credit for time served in corrections facilities since he was taken into custody in May 2011. Hupp also imposed a total of $5,271 in fines and court costs on Baird and suspended his driver's license for 30 days. The fines were $2,500 for felony eluding and $500 for destruction of property.
Defense attorney Scott Hook of Warrenton said he was pleased with the verdicts that took less than two hours of deliberation after two days of testimony.
"It's an incredibly fair verdict, and we appreciate the effort of the jury," Hook said.
Hook said Baird, who sat through the trial in a suit and tie, has family in Arizona, but was unsure of whether his client would be joining them. Baird was living in Fauquier County at the time of the incident.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Nicholas Manthos had little to say after the trial.
"The jury spoke," Manthos said.
Manthos and Hook agreed during the trial that Baird was drunk the night of May 4, 2011 when he rammed a police cruiser driven by Sheriff's Office Deputy Joshua Noland as Noland tried to exit the vehicle.
"He was drunk, people, very drunk," Hook told the jury.
Deputy Robert Mumaw fired at Baird's GMC pickup as it drove off after hitting Noland's car at the intersection of Chapman Road and U.S. 340. Authorities said Baird was driving toward Mumaw and attempting to run him over when the deputy fired.
Authorities say Baird was arrested after driving the pickup south on U.S. 340 and crashing into a rock wall about a quarter mile away. Baird was taken to the hospital at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for treatment of a gunshot wound in the arm.
Manthos and Hook also agreed that Baird wanted to commit suicide by jumping off Gooney Creek Bridge hours before the confrontation with the deputies. Hook said Baird was despondent about family strife and was afraid he was losing his wife and children.
"Tony's intent was to commit suicide by jumping off the bridge," Hook said.
Manthos and Hook also agreed that Baird changed his mind sometime in the evening. Hook said Baird stopped his car at the site of the confrontation with the deputies because he didn't want to die as a drunken driver on the road.
"He wants to sober up until he gets off that bridge," Hook said in explaining his client's actions.
Hook said Baird's ramming of the squad car was no different from incidents frequently seen in the parking lots of bars around closing times when drunken drivers hit parked cars unintentionally and drive off.
Manthos told the jury in his closing arguments that Baird lost his nerve before he could carry out his plan and instead chose to do something that would goad police into killing him.
Manthos said the evidence, including videotape from the police cruiser, showed Baird deliberately rammed Noland's car in the hope of provoking a confrontation that would lead to police shooting him.
"Suicide by cop. You all know that's been the commonwealth's theme throughout this trial," Manthos said.
Manthos rejected Hook's assertion that Baird pulled off near the bridge to sober up. Instead, Baird "wimped out" on jumping off the bridge and chose another method of suicide, Manthos said.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it's clear he wanted the officers to do what he wouldn't do himself," Manthos said.