SD witnesses describe gun-in-courtroom sceneFARGO — Witnesses in the trial of a man accused of pulling a gun in a western North Dakota courtroom testified Tuesday about a chaotic scene with people screaming and taking cover while the defendant unsuccessfully pulled the trigger several times.
By: Dave Kolpack, The Dickinson Press
FARGO — Witnesses in the trial of a man accused of pulling a gun in a western North Dakota courtroom testified Tuesday about a chaotic scene with people screaming and taking cover while the defendant unsuccessfully pulled the trigger several times.
Vicente Chacano is charged with 14 counts of attempted murder, including 12 counts for each one of the jurors who were about to leave Adams County Courthouse in Hettinger after finding Chacano guilty of child molestation on Feb. 4, 2011.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” prosecutor Jackson Lofgren said Tuesday in his opening statement of a trial that could reach the jury as early as Wednesday afternoon.
Witnesses recounted how Chacano pointed the 9mm semi-automatic pistol at several people in the courtroom and pounded on it when it wouldn’t fire. Jonathan Byers, the prosecutor at the time, and Eugene Molbert, then-Adams County sheriff, helped subdue Chacano.
Defense attorney Rob Quick said in opening statements that the case is a matter of “perception versus reality.” Quick said his client wanted to run out of the courtroom and panicked.
“There was no intent to harm anyone,” Quick said.
The trial for Chacano, a Chilean native who was working in southwest North Dakota as a farmhand, had been earlier moved to Fargo. Chacano listened to the proceedings over headphones to translators
sitting in a corner of the courtroom.
Byers said that Chacano pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger three times. He said he paused at first, but decided to tackle Chacano after the gun jammed.
“What I heard him say was ‘I give up’ as I tackled him,” Byers said.
Judge Zane Anderson, who presided over the first trial, said Tuesday he had just excused jurors from the courtroom when he saw Chacano walk out from behind the defense table with a “big gun, silver in color.” Anderson said Chacano put one hand on Byers’ shoulder, stuck the gun in his chest and tried to fire it three times.
An audio recording played in the courtroom Tuesday begins with Anderson’s final words to jurors, followed by screaming, sobbing and instructions — presumably to Chacano — to “put your hands behind your back, now.”
Molbert, who has since retired, said he first pulled his gun when the incident happened, but put it away when he saw Byers charge Chacano.
“I re-holstered and I jumped on top of him,” Molbert said.
Investigator Pat Helfrich, who interviewed Chacano afterward, said the defendant told him he blacked out and the first thing he remembered was people on top of him.
“He stated to me he didn’t know why he took the gun in with him,” Helfrich said.
In July, Chacano was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the sex crime. He is appealing that conviction.