Jurors asked to consider nullification in trial of Salem man shot by police
BRENTWOOD - A defense lawyer encouraged jurors to nullify any guilty finding against a Salem man shot by police and later charged with threatening three police officers with a Samauri-style knife.
'The judge may not instruct it, but it is your right,' defense lawyer Richard Sheehan said during closing arguments in the trial of Larry Minassian, 53, on trial for criminal threatening and reckless conduct.
Minassian is accused of luring Salem police to the front of his home last Jan. 6 by calling 911 and initiating a suicide-by-cop scenario before charging at the officers with the knife raised above his head.
Salem police testified they spent several minutes trying to get Minassian to put down the knife, assuring him that he would not be in trouble. Minassian instead sized up the officers and charged at them before being taken down by police gunfire, assistant county attorney Benjamin LeDuc told jurors.
The defense's suggestion to use jury nullification comes roughly three weeks after a Belknap County Superior Court jury cleared a 59-year-old Barnstead resident of a felony manufacture of marijuana charge.
LeDuc discouraged jurors from considering that Minassian lost his leg as a result of being shot by police. He said the police officers who were forced to live with the fact they shot a man were the real victims.
Nullification allows New Hampshire jurors to find someone innocent even if the state proves its case. It's a legal concept that has resided in the U.S. Constitution since the nation began but is rarely applied in modern courtrooms. It's the basis for a new state law that permits the defense in all criminal cases 'to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy,' which takes effect Jan. 1.
'This isn't about consequences,' LeDuc said. 'This is a trial about guilt.'
Judge Kenneth McHugh did not provide a nullification option to the jury while instructing them on how to deliberate. Nor did McHugh directly address Sheehan's encouragement to acquit Minassian even if they found that prosecutors proved their case.
LeDuc argued to jurors to follow the court instructions and consider all of the testimony and evidence.
Jurors only have to find that Minassian could have caused serious bodily injury or death and put officers in fear for their lives to convict him of the two felonies, Leduc argued.
The jury began deliberating just about 2:15 p.m. Jurors were not able to hear about Minassian's prior runs-ins with police. Minassian recently completed a six-month county jail term after a judge imposed a suspended sentence from a 2008 simple assault against a Salem police officer.