An Elizabethtown man said he was relieved and thankful after a Bartholomew Circuit Court jury found him not guilty Thursday of reckless homicide and three other felonies relating to the death of a fellow bar patron.
The jury deliberated about four hours before returning the verdict for Jacob A. Tolbert, 25, 10202 Legal Tender Road.
Tolbert was found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana and will be sentenced on that conviction at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 17.
“I’m thankful the jury did what they were supposed to do,” Tolbert said, surrounded by his family outside the courtroom after the verdict. “I don’t have to worry about my daughters not having a dad.”
Tolbert was accused of reckless homicide, failure to stop after an accident resulting in death and failure to return to the scene of an accident resulting in death of Thomas L. “Tommy” Brazzell, 27, of Vallonia.
Brazzell, a personal trainer at a Seymour health club, was involved in an altercation with Tolbert and other companions April 28, 2013, in what was then Caddies Pub, in the 2700 block of Central Avenue in Columbus.
Tolbert and the victim, along with their companions, were kicked out of Caddies that night and resumed their altercation in the bar’s parking lot, according to police.
Brazzell ran after Tolbert’s pickup truck and grabbed on to the passenger side of the vehicle during the confrontation, according to police accounts.
Tolbert began to accelerate and drove toward semitrailers parked outside the closed Dolly Madison plant when Brazzell was knocked off the vehicle. When Tolbert backed up, the wheel of his truck ran over the Jackson County man, killing him, according to police.
Friends and family of Brazzell were in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
Prior to reading the verdicts, Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann warned the spectators that the court would not tolerate any outbursts and asked anyone who could not follow the instruction to leave before the verdicts were read.
“The jury is made up of your fellow citizens,” Heimann said. “They don’t deserve to have anybody disparaging their decision,” he told the spectators.
Two women stifled sobs in tissues as Heimann read each verdict.
Several people believed to be members of Brazzell’s family or friends abruptly stood and left the courtroom as the not-guilty verdicts were being read.
They declined to be interviewed outside the courtroom after Heimann asked for the spectators to leave after the hearing concluded about 6:45 p.m.
Bartholomew County Deputy Prosecutor Michael DeArmitt left the courtroom without speaking.
During closing arguments, DeArmitt described the matter as “the most complex case, factually and legally, that I’ve seen in my 17 years of practicing law.”
DeArmitt told jurors during closing arguments that Tolbert broke Indiana law by driving while intoxicated. Under state law, self-defense cannot be used if the defendant is committing a crime while killing another person for self-protection.
Tolbert could have made choices after Brazzell jumped on his truck other than backing up, including stopping, locking the vehicle, making a conventional turn or calling police, according to the deputy prosecutor.
“But he was so careless in his choices that his actions rose to the level of recklessness,” DeArmitt said in his closing statements before the jury began deliberations.
After the verdict, Tolbert’s attorney, Eric Hayes, said the major issue in the case was that it was about self-defense, and there was a great deal of
evidence about Brazzell threatening Tolbert inside the bar.
He described the case as the prosecution trying to shoehorn leaving the scene of an accident into a crime when Brazzell was attacking Tolbert.
"This wasn't an accident, it was foreseeable. It was an intentional act by Mr. Brazzell," Hayes said.
Hayes added that Brazzell ran across the parking lot and jumped on Tolbert’s truck. Under Indiana law, a person is allowed to defend himself even in a case involving his vehicle being threatened, he said.
A jury of seven women and five men and three alternates heard eight days of testimony in the case. One alternate was used during the deliberations, Hayes said after the verdict.
After asking for the spectators to leave the courtroom, Heimann said he planned to talk to the jurors, who were taken back to the jury room.
Bartholomew County sheriff’s deputies escorted people out of the courthouse after Heimann cleared the courtroom.