Closing arguments in Simmons trial focus on intent and video interpretations
Two attorneys, two different interpretations of what a video surveillance recording from Dec. 24 inside Walmart shows actually happened when 70-year-old Grace Suozzi was hit by 26-year-old Jacquetta Simmons.
There's no dispute, said defense attorney Earl Key, that his client hit, or even punched, Suozzi.
What the recording clearly shows, Key said, is that a Walmart store employee grabbed Simmons by the arm and Simmons tried to swing free and accidentally hit Suozzi.
Like Key in his closing statement in the trial of Simmons on a charge of assault in the second degree, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman went through the video frame by frame and pointed out to jurors that the recording shows something very different than what Key said it shows.
The video shows, Friedman said, that customer service manager Sharon Reigle, isn't even close enough to Simmons to be holding her arm when Simmons starts her swing.
As Simmons starts that swing, Friedman said, you can see Suozzi stepping back, realizing, as she testified, that Simmons is going to try and hit her.
As Simmons hits Suozzi, Friedman said, Simmons is looking directly at Suozzi. In the next frame, Friedman said, you can still see Simmons looking directly at Suozzi as she falls backward to the floor, and Simmons is still looking at Suozzi, Friedman said, as Suozzi slides across the floor.
Those actions, Friedman said, contradict Simmons' claims that she didn't intend to hit Suozzi and that she didn't know she hit and injured Suozzi.
In closing arguments, the defense always gets to make its case to the jury prior to the prosecution.
Key went through the testimony witness by witness, arguing that the prosecution failed to prove the most important fact under dispute: Whether Jacquetta Simmons intended to hit and injure Grace Suozzi.
"You can see clearly from that video that she is being held," Key said. "You can see that she's swinging her arm away. The prosecution has the obligation to prove my client intentionally hit Ms. Suozzi. We all know Jacquetta hit Ms. Suozzi. They have to prove she did it intentionally."
Going through witness testimony, Key noted that Alex Derefinko said he saw a small scuffle before Simmons hit Suozzi.
While Reigle denied grabbing Simmons, Key told jurors she had a motivation to lie because by her testimony the 10-year Walmart employee knows she would be fired if she touched a customer.
While Dylan Phillips testified that he saw Reigle four or five feet away from Simmons, Key said the video shows Reigle standing right next to Simmons.
As for Suozzi, Key said, she is of course a sympathetic person, but that doesn't mean her version of events is what actually happened.
"I submit to you that Grace probably really believes that Jacquetta hit her on purpose," Key said. "But just because you believe something doesn't make it true."
While Key acknowledges that Simmons used obscenities during the incident, he said the most inflammatory statements were not substantiated by second witnesses. In each case, he said, only one person testified to those specific statements.
For example, outside of Walmart, Samual Hackenberg testified that heard Simmons say, "I don't give a fuck about these dirty white people."
Key said the accusation isn't believable because Hackenberg didn't even mention the statement until a month after the incident and nobody else said they heard it.
Even though Hackenberg claimed Simmons said it while standing next to a police car, Key noted that Trooper James Baines didn't include the statement in his report (Baines testified that all suspect statements are included in reports) and didn't repeat the statement during his testimony.
Regarding the testimony of Randy Johnson, Key said it was noteworthy that the prosecution didn't call Johnson, who testified that he saw Reigle grab Simmons.
Johnson also testified that he saw Simmons trying to leave before the punch was thrown.
"They didn't call anybody who disagreed with their theory of the case," Key said. "This trial is supposed to be a search for the truth, not a win at all costs. Let's hear from everybody and let you decide for yourself."
He criticized Friedman's attempt to impeach Johnson by going through a long list of police contact with Johnson that involved Johnson's mother.
"Friedman beat him over his head about things that had to do with his mother," Key said. "But do you disbelieve his testimony because he has trouble with his mother?"
Key told the jury to note that it wasn't the defense that brought race into the trial; it was the prosecution.
He said both Jacquetta and Isaac testified that they were upset on Christmas Eve because they thought they were being accused of stealing. Neither mentioned being upset about anything related to race.
Key closed by emphasizing that the prosecution has the burden to prove Simmons intentionally hit Suozzi, and if there is reasonable doubt that she did not intend to hit Suozzi, then the correct verdict is "not guilty."
"If you say you don't know whether she is guilty or not, that's not guilty," Key said. "If you don't know, that's not guilty."
Friedman said there are three elements of the crime the prosecution must prove.
First, that the victim was injured; second, the age differences of the defendant and the victim; and, that Simmons acted with intent.
There is no dispute over the first two, elements, Friedman said, so that leaves intent and the evidence and testimony, he said, certainly proves intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
Multiple witnesses, Friedman said, testified they saw Simmons pulling her arm back to take a swing at Suozzi.
Simmons acknowledged, Friedman said, that she wasn't going to show Suozzi her receipt.
On the subject of Johnson's testimony, Friedman said Johnson's testimony in court contradicts a statement he gave to police on Dec. 24 and that Johnson admitted that, based on his experience as a boxer, he thought it looked like Simmons intentionally positioned her body to throw a punch.
Friedman also noted that Johnson, who was called to the stand by the defense, testified that out in the parking lot Simmons warned Johnson, "Watch it, or you could get it, too."
That's not the statement, Friedman said, of somebody who just hit an elderly woman accidentally.
Also in the parking lot, Isaac Simmons was on the phone with his mother and he acknowledge telling her, "Mom, Jac just punched somebody and she's going to jail."
"That doesn't sound like somebody who just saw his sister accidentally hit somebody," Friedman said.
Friedman also took aim act Jacquetta's credibility.
Simmons had said she didn't even know she hit Suozzi until two hours later when she viewed the surveillance video at the police station, but evidence and testimony, even her own, Friedman said, contradicts that claim.
For example, Simmons testified that somebody in the parking lot told her, "You can't hit a white woman like that."
"When Trooper Baines showed her the video, after it was over, he said, 'I don't know how you're going to justify this,' " Friedman said. "She just shrugged her shoulders. She was agreeing with him. She couldn't justify it."
Following closing arguments, Judge Robert C. Noonan explained the rules of evidence and the law to the jury, a process that took close to an hour.
Around 12:30, the jury began deliberating. About 15 minutes later, Noonan received a note from jurors asking to review the video evidence.
The jury was brought back into the courtroom and the video was played while they all sat in the jury box, leaning forward trying to get the best view possible of the video.
The jury is currently back in deliberations.
UPDATE 2:09 p.m.: The jury has returned to the courtroom to view again the video of Suozzi being hit. They asked to be situated closer to the viewing screen and to watch it both in real time and four times frame-by-frame with a three-second pause between each frame. The video is now being projected on the back wall of the courtroom, closest to the jury box.
I hope each juror can see for their self what is plainly visible in the video. Grace sees the punch coming, tries to block it, Jacquetta throws a one step punch and follows through. Jacquetta's swing is so hard that the hood of her jacket comes flying up onto her head. There's not much to be confused about. If I was a juror, my decision would be an easy one.
Guilty of 2nd Degree Assault
According to Channel 2 news they just found her guilty!