LINCOLN — Former Husker cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will have to wait at least another day to learn his fate in a case accusing him of assaulting a Lincoln police officer last April.
A Lancaster County District Court jury deliberated about five hours Tuesday before adjourning for the evening without a verdict. The four men and eight women are expected to resume deliberations Wednesday morning.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Dennard's attorney denied that Dennard punched a police officer trying to arrest him for striking another man on the street in downtown Lincoln's bar district after closing time. A prosecutor, however, said several police officers saw Dennard punch Officer Benjamin Kopsa in the jaw. A cell phone video also showed Kopsa reeling after some sort of contact.
Yet defense lawyer Terry Dougherty said Dennard was guilty of nothing more than resisting arrest. After realizing it was a police officer who had grabbed him from behind, Dennard backed away more than 40 feet and disobeyed Kopsa's orders to put his hands behind his back, Dougherty said. He even “brushed away” the officer's hands as Kopsa tried to handcuff him.
“He made a mistake that night, and believe me, nobody knows that better than Alfonzo Dennard,” Dougherty told the jury. “But if that's all that happened, find him not guilty. There's woefully deficient proof that anything my client did caused a physical injury.”
The alleged assault occurred a week before Dennard stood for the NFL draft and probably cost him a predicted second round selection. Instead, the New England Patriots chose him in the seventh round. He went on to start.
Prosecutor Matt Acton, however, urged the jury to keep sympathy out of their decision.
The law requires only that prosecutors show Dennard intentionally, knowingly or recklessly swung at the officer, who was injured as a result. Kopsa testified that he visited a physician assistant two days after the assault because he continued to feel pain and tightness in his jaw. He was prescribed ibuprofen.
“You're not here to decide whether he (Dennard) is a good person or, for that matter, a good football player,” Acton said. “Good people make mistakes, including professional athletes. ... He should be held accountable for his actions. There is no different standard under the law for football players or professional athletes or for anyone else.”
Dennard faces a felony charge of assaulting an officer, which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He also was charged with two misdemeanors — resisting arrest and the assault of a man who bumped into him in the street. For each of those counts, he faced up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In closing arguments, Acton pointed to the 17-second cell phone video as proof that Dennard punched the officer. The video, taken in the dark by a bystander, shows Dennard and Kopsa struggling in a shadowy background, with the view obstructed by several of Dennard's friends, including his twin brother, Lorenzo, and his brother's girlfriend.
It was difficult to make out much besides the girlfriend's bright pink cocktail dress when the video was played repeatedly on courtroom video screens.
But Acton said the video shows Dennard shifting his weight forward onto his left foot to throw a right hook into Kopsa's face. It also shows Kopsa reeling backward after being hit in the jaw, Acton said.
During testimony, Kopsa said the punch hurt. “On a scale of one to 10 ... an eight,” he said.
Yet Dougherty pointed to the same video for the defense. He urged the jury to review the video frame by frame.
“I've watched it a thousand times,” he said. “There's no punch thrown that you can see.”
Acton said there was no other explanation for Kopsa's upward and backward motion.
“The impact of Alfonzo Dennard's fist sent Office Kopsa back several feet,” Acton said.
Dougherty, in response, launched his closing argument by crouching in front of the jury box and leaping backwards.
He said the video shows only “who's jumping up, jumping back and how they're dancing.”
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