Juror: Race not a factor in Bellaire cop verdict

May 12, 2010 4:00:47 PM PDT
There's plenty of reaction to Tuesday's not guilty verdict against a Bellaire cop who shot an unarmed man in front of his own home. Opinions on both sides remain heated. Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton was found not guilty Tuesday for shooting aspiring baseball player Robert Tolan back in December of 2008.

A protest was underway outside the Bellaire Police Department Wednesday, led by community activists. Meantime, a juror in the case is discussing the emotional roller coaster that jury members went through during the trial.

"You have peoples' lives on your hands," said juror Ellen Laws. "It rests on the decision of twelve people and no matter what you decide, you've already have changed peoples' lives."

Laws is an attorney by profession and the daughter of a retired police officer. She says members of the jury took the deliberation process seriously, but in her opinion, she didn't feel race played any role when Sgt. Cotton shot Robert Tolan in his parents' front yard in 2008.

"I was really very disappointed that I see a lot of commentators on both sides saying race was a factor, that it was mentioned in the trial," said Law. "It wasn't."

On Tuesday, the Tolan family released a statement saying they were disappointed in the verdict, while the city of Bellaire said the verdict was proof that its police department didn't racially profile.

"The allegation was made that these individuals were stopped based upon their race," said Bellaire Attorney William Helfand Tuesday. "The evidence from the trail demonstrates there could be nothing further from the truth."

But Laws says the verdict is simply a verdict, and it's not an opinion on police policy, racial allegations, or anything else.

"All the verdict means is that we found Sgt. Cotton was not guilty of the charges that were presented," she said. "Nothing more. That's all it can be."

Law says the two arguments she found most persuasive -- reasonable doubt and self-defense. She says this shouldn't have any bearing on the civil case.


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