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9-day trial begins in homicide

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A Bartholomew Circuit Court jury is hearing the case of an Elizabethtown man accused of reckless homicide in the death of a fellow bar patron 16 months ago.

Jacob A. Tolbert, 25, 10202 Legal Tender Road, is accused of backing a pickup over Thomas L. “Tommy” Brazzell, 27, of Vallonia, who was a personal trainer at a Seymour health club.

Brazzell was on the pavement behind the vehicle when the incident occurred April 28, 2013, in a parking lot of what was then Caddies Pub, in the 2700 block of Central Avenue, according to court documents.

Tolbert’s trial is expected to last nine days, court officials said.

Seven women and five men, as well as three alternates were selected as jurors Tuesday from about 75 local residents called for jury duty.

Tolbert was originally charged with reckless homicide as a Class C felony; failure to stop after an accident resulting in death, a Class C felony; and possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor. A fourth charge — failure to return to the scene of an accident resulting in death as a Class C felony — was added in June 2013.

But five months ago, Judge Stephen Heimann accepted elevated charges that reclassified the “failure to stop” and “failure to return” counts as Class B felonies, instead of Class C.

The penalty for a Class B felony conviction is 6 to 20 years, as opposed to 2 to 8 years for a Class C felony.

The defendant and the victim, along with others, got into a confrontation after being kicked out of Caddies Pub, according to a police affidavit about the case.

Brazzell had grabbed onto Tolbert’s truck as the defendant attempted to leave the parking lot, according to a police affidavit.

It was after Brazzell fell off the vehicle that the truck backed over him, according to police.

Deputy Prosecutor Michael DeArmitt presented an overview of who would be testifying in the case in his opening statement, including the police testimony about how the incident occurred.

In the opening statement for the defense, Tolbert’s attorney Eric Hayes depicted Brazzell as an intoxicated bully who first got angry with Tolbert and his companions after bumping into the defendant while in a backroom of the bar.

Hayes said Brazzell used a “phony excuse” to justify pushing Tolbert from behind so hard that the defendant ran into his dance partner, causing her to fall on the floor.

He said that after Brazzell threatened Tolbert with his fist on the dance floor, the defendant’s friend, Keith Firestone, attempted to intervene and wound up with head injuries severe enough that he had to be helped outside.

After the bar’s bouncers ordered Brazzell, Tolbert and their respective companions to leave, Brazzell kept pointing at Tolbert and making obscenity-laced threats, Hayes told the jurors.

Hayes said Tolbert was in panic mode because Brazzell, who had been threatening him, had jumped on the back of his pickup.

The defense attorney contends that since Brazzell attacked the truck, his death was a matter of self-defense on Tolbert’s part.

Hayes and DeArmitt told the jurors they would be hearing testimony from people who were highly intoxicated when they witnessed the incident.

“The testimony is going to be all over the place,” Hayes said.

DeArmitt advised the jurors to weigh evidence with the testimony and use their common sense to determine what actually happened.

The first witnesses were expected to be called when the trial continues at 8:30 a.m. today.

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