On Monday, the Sun contacted Cedar County Sheriff Leon Dwerlkotte about another matter and learned that a Greene County Circuit Judge had overruled the murder conviction of Joshua Jay Brown in the death of Cedar County Deputy Sheriff Matt Chism.
The Sun called Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither who confirmed that had happened but needed time to regain his composure before talking on the record because attorneys are barred from criticizing judges. The Sun set up an appointment to interview Mr. Gaither Tuesday morning who by then had written and emailed the press release on Page 1.
The Sun called the sheriff back on Monday night for this interview. The sheriff is not an attorney and is, therefore, not restricted in what he can say.
Q. Tell me what happened today.
It was in the Greene County Court in Springfield before Judge Holden. It was on the trial for Josh Brown where he was due to be sentenced today. The jury had already made the finding of guilty on all four counts: second degree murder, hindering prosecution, possession of a firearm and possession of drugs, a controlled substance. The judge over rode the jury’s decision and dismissed murder – 2nd degree and hindering prosecution.
Q. Did he say why he did that?
He said there wasn’t no case for it. There wasn’t enough evidence for it. But my understanding – a judge cannot override a jury’s decision whenever they have already found him guilty on all counts.
Then he gave him a very light sentence on the possession of a controlled substance and the weapon. He gave him the minimum sentence of 10 years for the drugs and the minimum of four years for the weapon.
Q. Did he say why?
Q. Have you ever heard of a judge doing this before?
No. I never have.
Q. Does this judge have a history of doing things like that?
That I don’t know. According to some of the Greene County officers I talked to, they said, “Now you kinda see what we are up against.” I don’t know what that actually means. The way it sounds to me, he is a very liberal judge.
I know the family was very disappointed.
The judge also gave his opinion of what he thinks happened the night Deputy Chism was shot, which is very unusual for a judge to do.
Q. What was his opinion of what happened?
He is of the opinion that Deputy Chism shot Mr. Collins first instead of vice versa. And his opinion really upset the family. And they wanted to express their opinion. We had to keep them from doing that because we were afraid of what might happen.
The family is very upset and I know that all the law enforcement that was there from the various counties – I talked to Stone County, Barton County, Greene County, every police department that was represented there – they were all upset. You could have heard a pin drop after he made his decision.
Q. What did it matter what the sequence was on the shooting?
In his opinion, Mr. Collins should have been picked up first prior to Deputy Chism being picked up by the ambulance crew, since he was still talking and moving, according to him.
Q. Was there any testimony to that effect?
I believe so. I think there was testimony that he was still moving when everyone arrived on the scene.
Q. And Matt was not?
No. Not that I know of.
Q. It sounds like to me the judge’s sympathy was with Joshua Jay Brown and the guy that shot Matt rather than with the deputy.
Right. I know that everyone in the courtroom today was very shocked.
I’m not sure what the prosecutor is going to do.
Q. He told me he plans to appeal it.
I hope so. That’s what I think he ought to do.
Q. He was so mad he couldn’t talk to me tonight. He couldn’t be interviewed because he might say something that… I’ve never heard of such.
None of the rest of us have either. I’ve been doing this for quite some time but I’ve never heard of a judge overriding a jury then giving his own opinion. That’s never come up that I know of.”