A prosecutor squared off Tuesday against a Monroe County street preacher who is accused of trying to incite a riot last summer at a Lee Highway memorial dedicated to July 16 victims.
It did not go well.
James Hutchins, 61, tried to invoke the Bible in the first sentence of his opening statements to jurors, interrupted Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz, and cross examined his wife on the witness stand, all without a defense attorney on his first day of trial.
Prosecutor Bates Bryan objected numerous times throughout Tuesday's proceedings, which ended early after Greenholtz ruled that Hutchins asked his wife to discuss evidence that jurors weren't supposed to hear. Without the jury present, Greenholtz said Debbie Hutchins had discussed her testimony outside of the courtroom with another witness — which is forbidden during an ongoing trial.
It was supposed to be a routine hearing.
But when the jury returned and Debbie Hutchins got back on the witness stand, her husband asked, "Has any officer in this court intimidated you at all?"
"Whatever this other attorney's name is," she said. "He made me feel like I had discussed this case or whatever."
Bryan immediately objected. And Greenholtz dismissed the jury — again.
"We had an out-of-jury hearing to intentionally avoid this," Bryan said, "and now the witness [Hutchins' wife] is testifying that I intimidated her by participating in this hearing. It's just so far out of line I don't know if there's an objection."
Greenholtz asked what could be done to fix the situation.
"The jury is under the impression that I did something to threaten this woman," Bryan said, and asked to strike her testimony from the record.
Greenholtz turned to Hutchins.
"She gave an honest answer and testimony," Hutchins said. "You can see how distraught and distressed she was. I happened to agree with her."
Greenholtz sent jurors home at 4:12 p.m. and told them to return at 8:45 a.m.
In court today, Greenholtz will allow Hutchins to delve further into the issue of witness intimidation. It's commonly referred to as opening the door, meaning Bryan can refute Hutchins' arguments with the prosecutor's own evidence, even though he already rested his case Tuesday.
Bryan and Hutchins selected a jury within an hour Tuesday.
Then Bryan set about calling four law enforcement officers who encountered Hutchins on July 19, 2015, when he allegedly shouted epithets and racial slurs and assaulted a police officer by grabbing his arm. As two officers testified, Hutchins wasn't showing respect at the Lee Highway memorial, where 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez began his spree that killed five U.S. service members.
But Hutchins denied any factual basis for his charges of assault, inciting to riot, and disorderly conduct.
"There was no assault by anybody out there," Hutchins said to jurors. "I think it's reasonable to assume that if I had assaulted an officer, I would have been apprehended."
"I was taken to jail for my speech."
He added that officers misused the law when charging him with inciting to riot. As for disorderly conduct, "I'll let you make your own decision."
"Personally," Hutchins said, "I'm deeply offended that someone would refer to preaching the Bible — in America — as disorderly conduct."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.