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James Hutchins

James Hutchins walked out of the courtroom Wednesday carrying the same red Bible that fell out of his hands during his arrest. A jury had just convicted the 61-year-old street preacher of trying to incite a riot at a July 16 shooting memorial last summer.

Hutchins claimed innocence.

"The Lord Jesus is not easily intimidated, and I'm not either," Hutchins said. "So this is not going to stop our ministry. But right now, we have to accept whatever punishment the court brings out. The same thing happened to the Lord Jesus."

Hutchins will return to Hamilton County Criminal Court on Oct. 18 for sentencing on charges of disorderly conduct and inciting to riot. Both charges are misdemeanors that carry up to 30 days, and 11 months and 29 days in custody, respectively.

On July 19, 2015, authorities said Hutchins stomped around a Lee Highway memorial dedicated to the July 16 shooting victims, uttering sexually and racially based slurs, and assaulting a police officer by grabbing his arm. Ultimately, the jury returned a "not guilty" verdict on the assault charge. But to support his case, prosecutor Bates Bryan called four police officers who testified Hutchins was being disrespectful in a high-volume area of mourning and looking for a fight.

Throughout his trial, which began Tuesday, Hutchins denied the charges. And he did so without a lawyer, which made for a series of unusual proceedings.

Before closing arguments Wednesday, for instance, Hutchins and prosecutor Bates Bryan had to unpack an issue that arose the day before.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bryan requested an out-of-jury hearing to address a concern that Debbie Hutchins, the preacher's wife, had discussed testimony with another witness right after he got off the stand and walked out of the courtroom.

That's forbidden during an ongoing trial.

Bryan called a county employee whose office is right outside the courtroom and another prosecutor, Kate Lavery. After hearing the evidence, Judge Tom Greenholtz said there was clearly a rule violation. He asked Hutchins and Bryan not to discuss the violation in front of jurors.

When Debbie Hutchins got back on the stand, however, her husband continued his cross-examination, asking if anyone in the courtroom had intimidated her.

"What this other attorney's name is," she said, referring to Bryan. "He made me feel like I had discussed this case or whatever."

Bryan objected immediately and Greenholtz dismissed jurors early. On Wednesday, Greenholtz instructed jurors on how to treat the violation.

"[The witness] went out of the courtroom and began to discuss his testimony with the next witness, Ms. Hutchins," Greenholtz said. "You are not required to accept this testimony."

During his closings, Hutchins said he's been street preaching for 38 years and never takes it flippantly. Most communities, he argued, never have an issue with his message.

"It wasn't meant to be obnoxious. It wasn't meant to be intentionally violent," he said. "I would just ask you to consider the evidence and whether there was criminal intent involved in any of what I was doing."

Outside, after the trial, Hutchins seemed most upset by the police testimony that he used an epithet for homosexuals.

"That's not true," he said to a TV camera. "They brought in four paid liars wearing badges to say that. I agree with Jesus Christ, not the court."

Hutchins then referred to the first sentence of his opening statements, which drew objections when he began, "The bible says ... "

"Inciting a riot has to be an active call to action," he said. "If I was attempting to get them to do violence, that would be inciting a riot. But preaching the gospel and having people screaming profanities at us? The police did not do their job."

As they discussed sentencing, his wife started to tear up beside him, like she did a few times on the witness stand.

"It was all preaching," she said. "And preaching is not yelling."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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