DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A judge on Friday dismissed the most serious charge against a Detroit police officer who fatally shot a 7-year-old girl during a raid, but the trial also was halted to give prosecutors an opportunity to immediately appeal.
The surprising development came after prosecutors finished presenting their case against Joseph Weekley, who mistakenly pulled the trigger and killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones during a chaotic search for a murder suspect in 2010.
Defense attorney Steve Fishman said an involuntary manslaughter charge should be dismissed because prosecutors had failed to show that Weekley intentionally created a danger that caused Aiyana’s death.
“There is absolutely no evidence, none, that’s in the least bit credible,” argued Fishman, who repeatedly has called Aiyana’s death a tragic accident, not a crime.
Wayne County Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway agreed to dismiss the felony.
“I don’t see the evidence that (Weekley) willfully disregarded the results to others,” Hathaway said. “The entire trial has basically been about the carelessness of the defendant, based on his skills. If I am going to err, I’m going to err on the side of the defense.”
Jurors were sent home for the day while the prosecutor’s office scrambled to file an emergency appeal. By late afternoon, the Michigan appeals court suspended the trial until it can take a look at the dispute.
The trial was supposed to resume Monday with Weekley still facing a misdemeanor charge of reckless discharge of a firearm. It’s his second trial after a jury last year couldn’t reach a verdict.
Weekley, a member of an elite police unit, insists he accidentally pulled the trigger when Aiyana’s grandmother grabbed his gun as officers burst through the door of her home. Mertilla Jones, who offered some very emotional testimony last week, denies any interference.
Legal Analyst Charlie Langton said the judge’s decision Friday was unexpected.
“Judges generally let questions like this go to the jury,” said Langton. “But, obviously, this judge was there; this judge saw the testimony of Grandma and simply did not believe her, and the judge cannot let this jury speculate on charges — especially charges like manslaughter.”
Langton said that the remaining misdemeanor charge would not result in jail time if Weekley is convicted.
Following the ruling, Mark Diaz, president Detroit Police Officers Association (DPOA), released the following statement:
“We are very pleased with the directed verdict. And we are confident in the judicial system and that officer Weekly will be exonerated of the remaining charge (careless use of a fire arm) so that we can work as a community to heal and never forget.”
“We’re talking about a situation that is an absolute nightmare,” added Diaz, speaking live on WWJ Newsradio 950 Friday afternoon.
“This is a tragedy no matter how you look at this; and, with regard to officer Weekley and what he has experienced — obviously the family has experienced a great deal of pain — but what everyone needs to recognizes is that Officer Weekley, and everyone involved, has experienced a great deal of pain.”
A spokesman for a group that pressed for charges in Aiyana’s death accused the judge of misconduct. Roland Lawrence said Hathaway was “circumventing the role of the jury.”
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