After deliberating for roughly five hours, the jury in the trial of Richmond police officer David L. Cobb appears to be deadlocked.
Minutes ago, Judge David Johnson read a note from the jury that said they cannot reach a unanimous decision: "We are at a deadlock and further deliberations will not change our decision."
Judge Johnson asked them to keep trying and sent them back to continue deliberations. The jury deliberated two hours on Thursday and three hours Friday morning.
Cobb is on trial for murder in the shooting death of 18-year-old Paterson Brown Jr.
(This is a breaking news update. Check back for more details this afternoon.)
Prosecutors say Richmond police officer David L. Cobb needlessly shot and killed an unarmed teen who posed no real threat. But the defense argued Thursday that the teen’s bizarre and fear-inducing behavior justified the use of deadly force.
Today, a Chesterfield County Circuit Court jury will resume deliberations to decide which version is more believable.
In testimony on Thursday, the third day of Cobb’s trial, the 47-year-old officer created an emotionally charged stir when he broke down on the witness stand and sobbed loudly. He was recounting the moment last October when he learned that the teen he shot, 18-year-old Paterson Brown Jr., had died.
As Cobb’s family and supporters looked on in dismay, the nine-year veteran officer — with his head bowed as he wept — seemed so overwhelmed with emotion that he could not immediately continue to testify in his defense. Chesterfield Circuit Judge David E. Johnson called a 10-minute recess to help him regain his composure.
Under guidance from his attorney, Cobb recounted for jurors the events of Oct. 17 when he fatally shot Brown after the teenager inexplicably got into Cobb’s girlfriend’s vehicle as Cobb prepared to have it washed at Better Vision Detail & Car Spa on Midlothian Turnpike. Cobb was off-duty at the time.
“My intent was not to kill Paterson Brown,” Cobb testified. “My intent was to stop the threat.”
The officer claims he fired in self-defense when Brown, who was acting strangely and incoherently, apparently from drug use, kept trying to close the car door as Cobb tried to keep it open, and repeatedly refused Cobb’s commands to stop moving inside the Nissan Altima.
But Cobb said that after he warned the teen four times to stay still, Brown persisted a fifth time and moved his left hand across his waist to his right as the car moved forward. The officer fired a single shot that severed a vital artery in Brown’s pelvis.
Cobb said he believed Brown was reaching for a weapon. The teenager, as it turned out, was unarmed.
Cobb insisted that keeping Brown from stealing his girlfriend’s car was not a factor in his decision to fire.
Cobb said he didn’t think he had an option to back down because a crime was unfolding, and he believed “my life and civilians’ lives” were possibly at risk.
After Cobb’s testimony, prosecutors dropped earlier strong objections to the defense’s only other witness — Juan Carrillo, a teen friend of the victim who was with Brown at the car wash when the shooting occurred.
Defense attorney David Baugh wanted Carrillo’s testimony in relation to an incident that occurred a year before the shooting, when Brown was charged with robbing a James River High School student at gunpoint. The testimony was intended to illustrate Brown’s character, past bad acts and alleged propensity for violence.
Juan Carrillo testified that Brown hid in the back seat of a car and placed a gun to the head of the victim on Oct. 13, 2014. Carrillo said he was driving.
Brown was convicted of a reduced count of grand larceny of a person in connection with the robbery. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, all suspended, but the judge placed him on home incarceration with an electronic monitoring device for about six months, ending in May.
Carrillo said he didn’t know what happened to the gun after the robbery, but that Brown wasn’t armed with a firearm during the confrontation with Cobb.
“He wasn’t threatening nobody,” Carrillo said of Brown, referring to the confrontation with Cobb that led to Brown’s shooting death. “He didn’t seem angry at all.”
Carrillo, Brown and a 16-year-old runaway named Jennifer Ingles had arrived together at the car wash in Carrillo’s car that morning after being out all night together.
The defense rested its case after Carrillo’s testimony.
In closing arguments later Thursday, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Melissa Hoy argued that Brown’s actions did not represent an imminent threat of death or injury to Cobb, and said the officer likely would have defused the encounter by employing the crisis-incident training that he teaches to other Richmond officers.
Brown did not make any overt threats to Cobb during their 4½-minute confrontation, Hoy said, even when the officer pointed his gun at the teen and yelled commands for him to get out if the car. Brown did try to close the car door that Cobb opened, but the teen was high on marijuana and he likely wanted to avoid a confrontation, the prosecutor suggested.
When Cobb loudly announced he was a police officer, Hoy said, Brown leaned back away from Cobb and said, “I don’t f--- with cops” — as if he didn’t want trouble.
“This was about David Cobb believing Paterson Brown was taking his girlfriend’s car,” Hoy said of the officer’s motivation. “He did not want Paterson Brown to drive away with this car.”
“This was not about his personal safety,” Hoy said, or the safety of nearby citizens.
Hoy said none of the car wash or gas station employees on the scene perceived any fear from the encounter until Cobb pulled his gun.
“He changed the situation,” something that could have been resolved peacefully, she said.
“There was no legal excuse or justification for his actions,” the prosecutor charged, noting that Brown’s “reaching (inside the car) by itself does not give you the right to use deadly force.”
“While I will submit that Mr. Cobb is a good person, he made a bad choice, a wrong choice,” Hoy said.
Baugh, who over the years has represented five other Richmond officers in use-of-force cases, countered that every officer fears for his or her life when approaching a vehicle, and they are responsible for stopping crime when they see it.
Baugh said it didn’t matter whether the car Brown entered was Cobb’s girlfriend’s or a stranger’s, “he has a duty to stop a crime.”
“He doesn’t have a right to walk away,” Baugh said. “He took an oath. It’s his moral duty to stick his nose in it.”
To convict Cobb, Baugh told jurors, prosecutors “have to convince you there’s no reason to be scared.”
“Is he reasonable to be fearful?” Baugh added. “Yes. (Officers) all know.”
Baugh said Brown immediately set the tone by his bizarre behavior, glaring at Cobb after the officer spotted him inside the vehicle.
The law says you don’t have to wait to see a gun to use deadly force if you are in imminent fear for your life, Baugh said. “There was something seriously wrong with that kid, and nobody knows what it is,” he added.
Baugh said Cobb didn’t want to hurt Brown and that Cobb tried to keep things under control until Chesterfield police arrived.
Brown died because the teen created a fearful situation that escalated his threat level, Baugh said.
“The mindless death of a child is excruciating,” Baugh said. “ I would like to have a reason. It makes no sense.”
But in rebuttal, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney John Childrey challenged the notion that Cobb couldn’t just walk way from the car and call police.
“Is there some problem with Mr. Cobb doing that?” Childrey told jurors. “Why can’t he wait? He can wait, and the law requires that he wait.”