For the first time in public, Jacquetta Simmons told her side of the story today, and in front of the one audience whose opinion of the events on Dec. 24 at Walmart really matter: A jury of 12 Genesee County residents who tomorrow must decide whether a 26-year-old Simmons intentionally punched 70-year-old Grace Suozzi.
Simmons, now 27, said she had no idea she even hit Suozzi until hours later. She said she was horrified to learn she had injured Suozzi and it's been a painful realization ever since.
"I feel horrible about it," Simmons said during her only tearful moment on the stand. "I wasn't expecting somebody being -- how was I supposed to know she was standing right in front of me? I keep thinking 'how could I have hit this elderly lady and I don't remember that I hit her?' "
Reliving the realization, Simmons said, caused her to drop out of a business administration program at SUNY Brockport. She said she couldn't concentrate on her studies.
District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, however, judging by his cross examination, wasn't buying Simmon's contention that Suozzi was hit on accident.
While Simmons contends that somebody -- she doesn't know who -- grabbed her arm and, in her own words, she "aggressively" pulled away from the person, causing her to strike Suozzi, Friedman wanted to know how Simmons couldn't have seen Suozzi.
Through repeated questioning, Friedman got Simmons to admit that Suozzi was just a foot or so in front of her when she "punched" Suozzi.
The distinction between "punch" and "hit" came up a few times during a day full of testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses, with the implication being that "punch" meant an intentional act (though never explicity spelled out) and "hit" being accidental.
In various ways, through various questions about events, Friedman got Simmons, whose background includes volunteer work in literacy training and child and elder care, to repeatedly admit to "punching" Suozzi.
According to Simmons, here's how events transpired.
Simmons, she said, awoke at 10 that morning. Her mother asked her to go to the grocery store and purchase items needed for Christmas Eve dinner. Her brother, Isaac, tagged along, which Simmons said he usually does when she goes out for household errands (both Jacquetta and Isaac lived with their parents at the time).
First, the duo went to Tops and purchased some items.
Then they went to Walmart. They purchased turkey bags, cream cheese and three or four other items.
After going through one of the express lanes, they saw some chicken for sale in the hot foods section of Walmart and decided to buy something to eat.
They then got into another express lane. In this case, it turned out the cashier was Grace Suozzi.
When they got to the checkout counter, Simmons said she said hello to Suozzi and Isaac wished her a happy holiday, but Suozzi didn't respond.
After paying for the chicken, Suozzi, Simmons said, told her brother to hand over the Walmart bag and asked for a receipt.
Isaac told Suozzi his sister had the receipt.
According to Simmons, Suozzi kept asking Isaac for the receipt even as Isaac and Jacquetta kept telling Suozzi that Jacquetta had the receipt.
Simmons said her brother, who once worked for a Walmart in Henrietta, told Jacquetta, "they're not supposed to ask for your receipt anyway."
Suozzi then left her cash register and came around a "took" the Walmart bag from Isaac.
Either before or after Suozzi gained possession of the bag, Simmons pulled out a receipt and "showed" it to Suozzi (under cross examination, Friedman would focus on this point).
At some point after Suozzi had the bag, Simmons said she told Suozzi, "Give me my fucking bag back."
According to Simmons, Suozzi repled, "I'm not going to give you anything back."
She said Suozzi kept asking for the receipt and Simmons said, "I already showed you the fucking receipt."
At some point, Simmons said, Suozzi put the bag on the turnstile, and at that point, Simmons grabbed the bag. She said Suozzi reached for it at the same time, which caused the handles of the bag to rip.
She had to cradle the bag in her arm, she said, because it was hard to keep the items in the bag.
Simmons said she wanted to leave the store, but as she turned to leave, somebody grabbed her arm with some force.
"They had a nice grip on me," she said. "I pulled away very aggressively."
She said for a second afterward, she didn't know what to do and just stood there and then her brother told her to get out of the store.
Once outside, she said, she and her brother tried to get into her mother's minivan, which has a handicap placard and was parked in a handicap stall.
Two men, she said, came up to the van and opened the driver's side door and grabbed the keys from the ignition.
She said a woman came up and said, "You can’t hit a white woman like that. Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are?"
Simmons said with all of the people coming after her she was scared.
"We were being mobbed and they acted they like they knew what happened," she said. "I myself didn't know what happened completely."
With the van blocked in and no keys, she said she and her brother decided to leave the van and try to get away from the crowd.
During cross examination, Friedman called some elements of the story into question.
First, Friedman got Simmons to admit she was angry during the confrontation. Simmons adamantly wouldn't admit to being angry at Suozzi, but said she was angry at being asked to show a receipt.
Simmons also admitted that when she found the correct receipt in her pockets, she held it at a distance she knew would make it impossible for Suozzi to read. Simmons, by her own testimony, never offered to hand the receipt to Suozzi.
Friedman also challenged Simmons on her claim that she didn't know she hit Suozzi until she saw the video at the State Police barracks.
In an incredulous tone, Friedman asked Simmons why she thought a crowd of people were chasing her in the parking lot, especially after Simmons said she thought it was because the crowd considered her a thief.
"Did they accuse you of stealing," asked a snarky Friedman?
"No," Simmons said.
Simmons also denied telling Trooper James Baines, who had testified earlier, that "somebody grabbed me. I don't remember what happened. I just punched."
Simmons said she never told Baines, "I just punched."
Prior to Simmons' testimony, her brother Isaac took the stand as a defense witness.
Contrary to some of the testimony on Wednesday, Isaac testified that when Suozzi first asked for a receipt for the items in the bag in his hand, he said he refused to produce it.
The former Walmart employee said he told his sister, "You don't need a receipt."
He said his sister pulled out two receipts from her pockets, one from Tops and one from Walmart.
As for somebody grabbing his sister after Simmons regained control of the bag of merchandize, Isaac said, "A lady grabbed her and stuff."
Simmons pulled away, he said, and yelled, "Get off me."
A skeptical Friedman couldn't believe that a small, 70-year-old woman would take, by force, a bag of merchandise from the 6' 1", 211 pound Isaac Simmons.
According to Isaac, his sister never used the word "bitch."
Isaac denied calling his mother while in the parking lot and telling her, "Jac punched an old lady and she's going to jail."
He said he used the word "hit" and said he told his mother "the police are coming."
Under cross, Isaac admitted that in any version of his story prior to meeting with a private investigator from Key's office, he always used the word "punch."
To further impeach Isaac's testimony, Friedman questioned Isaac on his guilty plea in Greece for petit larceny.
Isaac, under repeated questions, admitted that he had committed numerous parole violations, including failing numerous times to report to his probation officer, using marijuana, testing positive for marijuana, drinking in violation of terms of probation, endangering the welfare of a child, operating a motor vehicle without a license, leaving Monroe County without permission and failure to notify probation when questioned by a police officer.
Isaac said he was trying to get his life together and was attending college.
In the morning, testimony began with a prosecution witness, Piper Sharick, a 16-year employee of Walmart.
Sharick said she hasn't worked since the end of April because she is suffering from PTSD as a result of the incident Dec. 24.
In attempt to calm down the situation after arriving on scene, Sharick said, she told Simmons she could print out another copy of the receipt.
"She just kept yelling, 'Give me my fucking shit,' " Sharick said.
When Simmons struck Suozzi, Sharick said, "It was a horrible sound, like the biggist, loudest smacking sound you could ever hear."
She testified that Simmons made a fist before striking Suozzi.
During cross examination, Sharick basically conceded the Batavia Walmart store had no policy in place on Dec. 24 for how to handle a customer who refused to show a receipt.
Next, for the prosecution, Samual Hackenberg (an assistant manager) testified that he didn't arrive on scene until after Suozzi was hit.
After ensuring Suozzi was being cared for, he went outside to see what was going on.
He testified that once outside, he said he heard Simmons say, "Do you think I care about these dirty white people?"
During cross examination, attorney Earl Key wanted to know why Hackenberg didn't tell anybody about this remark until a month after the event.
When Friedman re-questioned Hackenberg, he said he remembered the remark because after it was made, a coworker standing next to him quipped, "Well, I showered today."
The final prosecution witness was Trooper Baines.
Baines said Simmons asked him to see the video tape of the incident.
He said that when he told her, "I don't know how you're going to justify this one," Simmons just shrugged.
Just before the lunch break the defense called Patty Jacobs, even though the prosecution had not yet officially ended its case.
Testimony from Jacobs was taken early because of some schedule conflict she had if she was held over for the afternoon.
During the course of Jacobs' testimony, it was clear that Key was trying to find a way to get into evidence a statement Jacobs made on Dec. 28 on Facebook.
Jacobs wrote that day that she was in line behind Simmons and witnessed the whole event.
"The cashier asked her for a receipt," Jacobs wrote. "It was the wrong one, so she punched the elderly lady in the eye."
The jurors never heard that statement because of the nature of rules of evidence. Instead, they heard Jacobs say that she saw Simmons holding, but not showing to Suozzi, a Tops receipt, which she recognized because of the coupons on the back.
After lunch, the defense called Randy Johnson.
In his direct testimony, Johnson said he saw a woman grab Simmons' arm and Simmons swing her arm forward to try and escape from her clutches, causing her to hit Suozzi.
During cross examination, Friedman was relentless in impeaching Johnson's credibility.
First he called into question Johnson's claim that he's only lived in Genesee County for about a year.
With a stack of police reports, Friedman went through date-by-date numerous police contacts Johnson has had since November 2008.
Most of the contacts involved Johnson being kicked out of his mother's home, but Johnson has also been accused of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, criminal mischief (for punching his parents $35,000 car) and being sanctioned by DSS.
Most of the calls involving his mother, Johnson said, is because she's an alcoholic.
Friedman then went after Johnson for discrepancies between his testimony Thursday and his previous statements to police and to the DA's office.
In July, Friedman interviewed Johnson. After repeated questions, Johnson admitted that he previously told Friedman that he could tell Simmons intentionally punched Suozzi based on his experience as a professional boxer.
According to Friedman, Johnson had said because of the way Simmons cocked her arm and the stance he took along with her follow-through, as a professional boxer, he recognized the swing and an intentional punch.
The final witness called by the defense was Donald Stillwell, the loss prevention manager for Walmart.
Stillwell testified that in order for a customer to be accused of shoplifting, a loss prevention officer or a salaried manager or an hourly shift supervisor must observe four things:
The suspect selects an item;
The suspect conceals the item;
The suspect is under constant surveilance;
The suspect bypasses the final checkout point without paying for the item.
If any one of those for criteria are missing, Stillwell said, the customer cannot be detained as a shoplifting suspect.
When Friedman cross examined Stillwell, he said the situation involving asking a customer for a receipt wouldn't fall under the shoplifting criteria.
He did say, once a cashier encounters a customer who won't show a receipt, the matter should be turned over to a customer service manager and the cashier should have no further involvement in the situation.
According to Stillwell, the Batavia store has one of the worst records in the Walmart chain for shoplifting, or what loss prevention professionals call "shrinkage."
In 2010, Stillwell said, the Batavia Walmart store lost more than $600,000 to thieves.
The following year, things only got worst with shrinkage exceeding $680,000.