BELTON — After deliberating most of the day on Thursday, a Bell County jury found a Killeen man not guilty of threatening to assault a man with a chainsaw last year.
“The jury returned with a verdict of not guilty at 4:30 this afternoon,” said Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza on Thursday.
The jury retired to deliberate Thursday mid-morning after hearing two days of evidence and testimony in the trial of Eric Dale Freeman, 36.
Freeman has been in the Bell County Jail since Aug. 25, 2018, on bonds totaling $206,500, according to jail records. On Thursday morning the jury of five women and seven men heard the court’s charge and jury instructions, followed by closing arguments from the state’s prosecutor and Freeman’s defense attorney.
The jury had the option of finding Freeman guilty of a lesser but included charge of assault. Judge Paul LePak, in his jury instructions, explained the legal definition of a justified use of force, including deadly force, as a means of protection.
The case was heard in the 264th Judicial District Court.
Seeming like it might spark to life at any moment, a neon yellow chainsaw, adorned with two pale yellow evidence tags, sat on a table in front of the jury. Assistant District Attorney Debbie Garrett lugged it closer to the group for her closing argument.
Garrett said that heroes abounded during and after the incident on Aug. 23, 2018 on Lake Road and Hooten Street. “Ordinary people doing extraordinary things: that’s what a hero is,” she said. “The officers driving toward danger where they were told a man with a chainsaw was threatening someone…the woman who gave (Freeman’s wife) a cloth to wipe her bloody face…the officer who gave information about seeking help for domestic violence…and Michael Ray, who went to the aid of a woman he didn’t know.”
She said that in the process of trying to help Freeman’s wife after seeing her being beaten with a rock by Freeman, Ray was called racist names and threatened with the whirring chainsaw.
“The chainsaw came so close that one of Ray’s family members pulled him out of harm’s way,” Garrett said.
She said that the case does not qualify as self-defense because after the confrontation with Ray, Freeman ran away with the chainsaw, leaving his wife behind with the person who was allegedly threatening her.
Before his closing argument, Zachary L. Boyd placed two clear Pyrex bowls on the lectern, filling one of them with cherries almost overflowing. Then he carefully counted and placed 14 cherries in the other bowl.
“Fourteen pieces of evidence,” he said. “This case has not been a bowl of cherries. It’s been about cherry-picking.”
Boyd said that police bungled the investigation by not collecting pieces of evidence, failing to speak with all witnesses and not following leads.
“You saw how law enforcement works; or in this case, doesn’t work,” he told the jury. “They didn’t even bring all the evidence before the jury.”
A shovel and other items were photographed by police but not collected, he said. Other statements and videos were either not saved or were lost.
Boyd said that the neighbor was not being gallant, but rather was “aggressive.”
“He wanted to teach someone a lesson, with a shovel we don’t get to show you because it was a rotten cherry,” he said. “It was a poor investigation.”