Judge grants bench trial for detective accused in schizophrenic teen’s shooting death

Judge grants bench trial for detective accused in schizophrenic teen’s shooting death
Bryon Vassey (Source: Brunswick Co. Sheriff's Office)
A poster showing Keith Vidal made by family and friends. (Source: WECT)
A poster showing Keith Vidal made by family and friends. (Source: WECT)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A Brunswick County judge has granted the defense's motion asking for a bench trial in the case involving a Southport police sergeant accused of shooting and killing 18-year-old Keith Vidal.

The decision means a judge will hear the case instead of a 12-member jury.

Bryon Vassey was charged with voluntary manslaughter after he allegedly shot and killed Vidal at his home on President Drive on Jan. 5, 2014.

Vidal's parents reportedly called police for help because he was suffering from a schizophrenic episode and carrying a screwdriver in his hand.

According to the police report, Vassey reported firing shots 70 seconds after he arrived in order to defend himself and the other officers.

Vidal's stepfather said officers had his son down on the ground after using a Taser on him several times. He also said the situation was under control before Vassey arrived to the scene.

Vassey's defense attorney, James Payne, said Monday the media publicity in this case has been "highly controversial." Payne said the media "blasted" coverage, which forced the case to make international headlines.

Payne said Vidal suffered from schizophrenia and felt jurors would have too strong of an opinion, which could potentially cause the trial to slow down. Payne said a bench trial would save time and resources. He also said media coverage would not be as intense.

Payne presented a judge with articles from various local media outlets, including a Facebook page called "Justice for Keith Vidal." Payne said the articles gained negative media attention against Vassey.

Payne said the two other officers at the scene did not use their Tasers against Vidal.

Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger acknowledged the case has a lot of public interest. He noted Vassey's defense attorney made an appearance on CNN regarding the case. Payne said he had to do those interviews to defend his client because Vassey was being massacred by the media.

Bollinger said a jury of citizens should decide if Vassey is guilty instead of a judge.

Bollinger presented a number of articles Monday morning to show the court that the media gave equal coverage of the death investigation.

Vassey was in court Monday and told the judge he understood his rights to be tried by a jury, but he waived his right to do so in this case.

The judge granted the defense's motion after hearing both sides. The bench trial has been set for April 18.

Payne also requested that his client be able to go to the scene of the shooting so he could give his side of the story as to what exactly happened that day. According to Payne, the crime took place in a narrow hallway. He said Vassey would need to describe where everyone was standing at the time of the incident.

Bollinger said the Vidal family does not want Vassey back in their home. The Vidal family, however, is willing to let the defense into the house.

Bollinger added the home is no longer a crime scene so law enforcement has no right to go into the house without permission.

The judge deferred his decision to a later date. He wants an expert to go to the Vidal house to determine if Vassey would be able to provide any more valuable information to the case for trial.

The judge also sealed evidence presented Monday, including news articles and a Facebook page about Vassey.

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