to be sentenced in February
but mentally ill
Wanda English Burnett
took the jury less than three hours to render a guilty, but mentally
ill, verdict in the case of State vs. James Fernbach Jr. on Tuesday,
The 12-person jury listened intently, took extensive notes, and
considered the evidence presented by both sides to come to their
decision that made the prosecutors team believe they had
thoroughly presented their case.
There is a huge sense of relief at the verdict, I believe
our community is safer because of it, Prosecutor Ric Hertel
told The Versailles Republican. The jurys decision
of guilty, but mentally ill on both counts of Attempted Murder
sends a message that they believed he was mentally ill, but still
knew the difference between right and wrong, Hertel noted.
He said that was always the key question, did the defendant know
right from wrong?
After the trial was concluded, one juror said they all came to
the unanimous decision very quickly.
Fernbach, who shot two people outside a Batesville convenience
store on April 4, 2009, did not display any emotion throughout
the five-day trial. He sat calmly as witness after witness took
Jurors heard expert witnesses, medical professionals, police officers,
friends, witnesses to the crimes, and the ex-wife of the defendant,
along with evidence presented by both defense and state. They
never heard from the defendant himself.
In closing arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Ryan King recapped the
facts and evidence from the days of the trial as he passionately
told the jurors, you can do your part in righting this wrong.
King talked about the doctors lack of preparation citing they
didnt consult what he considered important witnesses and
never talked with the victims themselves. He noted that one doctor
had relied only on his interview with the defendant.
I believe the jury saw through the testimony and complete
lack of investigation by the courts two doctors, noted
Prosecutor Hertel. He said while they may have had qualifications,
their work in this case left much to be desired.
The prosecutor went on to say when two people have been shot and
the defendant is facing charges of this magnitude, he thought
the doctors would have put more effort into their work.
Phillip Cruser of Westport was shot in the head sustaining life-threatening
injuries. While he survived the gunshot wound, he has been left
with life-long complications that has left him disabled. His wife
was a victim in many ways, too. She was there, saw her husbands
head fall forward after he was shot in their truck outside the
Day Nite Store, Batesville, and held his head in her hands until
help could arrive. She now works outside the home and helps her
husband, who was totally self-sufficient before the incident.
Benjamin Dick, 28, of Sunman, was also a victim of Fernbachs
shooting spree. After Cruser was shot, Fernback turned the gun
on Dick, who was simply getting out of his vehicle to enter the
store. Unlike Cruser, who didnt have the opportunity to
fight back, Dick saw what was coming and fought for his life.
He wrestled with the shooter, and managed to get the gun turned
away from his head and was shot in the hand.
Our hearts and thoughts go out to the victims, Prosecutor
Hertel told The Versailles Republican. Phil will
never be the same and has constant reminders of that. Maybe this
(the verdict) will bring some sort of solace.
The prosecutor commended Batesville Police Detective Mike Benjamin
who he said always went the extra mile and led a team of
police officers in this investigation from early on.
The prosecutor had high praise for the deputy prosecutor Ryan
King, and Katherine Bumgarner, a law clerk in his office for their
relentless and tireless work before and
throughout the trial. I spent many nights with them reviewing
the facts, the law and the doctors evaluations and ultimately
developing a case theory and theme to this entire prosecution.
The prosecutor concluded, They are a credit to the profession.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Mark Jones referred briefly
to the prosecutors side as the dream team. Hertel
refers to them as professionals who did their jobs.
Jones defended his client with fervor even taking a passage from
the famous I have a dream speech of Martin Luther
King Jr. saying there should be equality for all. He admonished
the jurors to listen to the final instruction of the judge and
follow the law. He said insanity was the real issue in the case
with his client never having any intent to kill.
The defense attorney said the delusional beliefs of his client
were real to him. He said he (Fernbach) lived in constant fear
for his life and the lives of his family. Jones told the jurors
we have a habit of judging his (Fernbachs) conduct
by our sense of reality. He reiterated that Fernbach was
insane, not operating in the same world as others. He asked the
jury to find his client not guilty by reason of insanity.
In the final ten minutes of addressing the jury, Prosecutor Ric
Hertel asked how you could pick a spot in time where
a person is insane, and then be sane the rest of the day. He said,
It was a choice, he (pointed to defendant) did it.
In the end the jury decided that Fernbach was guilty, but also
allowed for his mental illness that they heard about in great
detail. The Attempted Murder charge is an A Felony, punishable
by 20-50 years in prison and Fernbach is facing two counts. His
sentencing will be the same as it would be if he was only found
guilty. That sentence will be handed down on February 15 at 2:00
p.m. in Ripley County Circuit Court.
ENGLISH BURNETT PHOTO
Tom Grills, left, escorted James Ferhbach from the courthouse
Tuesday afternoon after a jury found the defendant guilty
on two counts of Attempted Murder. The sheriff and deputy
Dale Holbert were in the courtroom throughout the proceedings.