ST. ALBANS — A jury found Ethan Gratton not guilty of second-degree and attempted second-degree murder.
The jury issued its verdict just before 1 p.m. Friday, after about six hours’ deliberation, beginning Thursday evening.
Public reception to the verdict was complicated by the fact that most family members gathered to support either Gratton or David Hill and Mark Brito, the victims of the Jan. 2, 2017 shooting, were out to lunch. Many of those related to Hill or Brito returned as the courthouse was emptying following the jury’s delivery of the verdict.
Prosecutors charged that Gratton knowingly and willfully intended to kill Hill and tried to kill Brito on that January afternoon on Georgia Mountain Road.
The confrontation between the men began when Gratton approached Hill, who’d parked his tractor trailer unit near the foot of the Gratton family driveway on Georgia Mountain Road, to tell him there was a safer parking spot at the foot of the road, its only flat portion.
“I just wanted to let them know it wasn’t a safe place to be parking,” Gratton testified.
“I’ll park wherever the [expletive] I want,” Hill said, according to Gratton.
Gratton said he went back to his house. Then he saw a skidder, “this big metal monstrosity kind of thing” piloted by Mark Brito, back into his family’s driveway.
So Gratton returned to the foot of the driveway.
It was there that the confrontation turned violent, with Hill punching Gratton in the face, severely enough to cause a concussion, broken nose and broken tooth.
Gratton’s defense, led by attorney Kelly Green, argued that Gratton acted in self-defense after Hill assaulted him, and that the neurological effects of Hill’s attack, specifically concussion, left Gratton unable to form what the law defines as “intent.”
Perhaps the key testimony in Gratton’s defense was that of Dr. Deborah Black, the neurologist who examined Gratton three weeks after the shooting and concluded he had suffered a relatively severe concussion.
Black testified that, in her professional opinion, Gratton was laboring under diminished mental capacity after the injuries he sustained from Hill.
Black extensively explained the effects of concussion and brain trauma to the jury, testimony the jury asked to have replayed Friday morning, taking notes and occasionally rewinding to study Black’s statements.
A crucial part of the State’s case against Gratton was testimony from Caleb McLane, a Georgia Mountain Road resident who happened upon the shooting minutes after it occurred and moments before Gratton’s parents, Jeff and Pam.
McLane testified Gratton told he and Gratton’s parents that he went to the house and grabbed a gun, then walked back and shot Hill and Brito.
Gratton testified that he had the firearm with which he shot in his hoodie pocket. Gratton testified that he carried the pistol, a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, with him at all times, and one of his friends testified that Gratton regularly carried it with him in his hoodie pocket, as well as on his hip or in his waistband.
The trial included six days of testimony from those who happened on the scene immediately after the shooting, those who had known Hill, and experts on both sides.
On Thursday, the jury heard closing arguments and received 28 pages of instruction from Judge Gregory Rainville before retiring to consider the verdict.
Gratton faced a life sentence if the jury convicted him on either charge.
For a complete chronicle of the case and the trial, pick up prior editions of the Messenger or visit samessenger.com.