New Judge Takes Over, Prosecution Rests in McGraw-Chesney Trial

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The people versus Tim McGraw and company took another unexpected turn Monday (May 21). As they made their way into the Orchard Park Town Courthouse near Buffalo, N.Y., for their criminal trial, the country star and his co-defendants, Kenny Chesney and production manager Mark Russo, were served with papers for a civil suit filed by Sgt. Mark Rokitka of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department.

Rokitka testified last week that McGraw thwarted both of his attempts to pull McGraw off his partner while the three fought backstage during the George Strait Country Music Festival at Ralph Wilson Stadium last
June. The subpoena was dated May 15, one day before Rokitka testified.

Thomas Eoannou, McGraw’s attorney, said the delivery of the papers "was in poor taste" and "did not sit well" with McGraw.

"No doubt, they waited until he was off the stand until they tried to line his pockets with Tim McGraw’s money," Eoannou said. "The fact that they would do it right in the middle of the courthouse [and] make it obvious they’re looking for money after they say they weren’t, is just one more chapter in this circus."

The trial resumed Monday for the first time since Rokitka ended his testimony Wednesday. Thursday morning (May 17), Justice Edmund S. Brown, 66, suffered a heart attack in the courthouse. In the confusion surrounding
his departure, attorneys on both sides said that if Brown could not continue, the case would end in a mistrial.

After spending time in intensive care, Brown decided he could not continue, but legal precedent provides for such a situation. Orchard Park’s other town justice, John M. Curran, reviewed more than 700
pages of court documents over the weekend and took command of the trial.

"Judge Brown tried mightily to preside over this case,” Curran said. "He took very seriously his obligation to see this through."

McGraw is charged with misdemeanor assault, resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration and menacing, along with violation charges of harassment. Chesney, who maintains he had permission not only to mount but also to ride a police horse that night, is charged with disorderly conduct, a violation. Russo is charged with misdemeanor obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The prosecution called eight witnesses Monday and rested its case. The defense says that witnesses who were flown into town last week, only to be sent back home, have been flown back again. "Mr. McGraw is very eager to tell his side of the story," said Eoannou, who added that he was not sure if his client would testify.

McGraw watched intently as the eight witnesses — two security guards, three sheriff’s deputies and three reserve mounted division deputies — told the jury about what happened on June 3. All day, McGraw took notes on a legal pad, just like his lawyer.

"Tim McGraw doesn’t miss a thing," Eoannou said. "He catches every inconsistency in the people’s proof; he immediately notifies me. He’s a very intelligent guy."

Once again, the defense team tried to poke holes in the witnesses’ testimony, asking why statements given in testimony were not part of the statements or notes they wrote that evening.

With the last witness on the stand, Assistant District Attorney Michael McHale asked if such notes were meant to be all encompassing.

"No," Deputy James Pikowski said. "I’m not a novelist."

The defense took issue when Pikowski testified he saw Russo and Rokitka engaged, and when Captain James Coyle said he felt someone grab his gun during the chaos that ensued when Chesney rode in on Coyle’s horse, because neither instance had been revealed in any written statement.

Adding to the courtroom drama, Deputy Wayne Wolf of the mounted reserve division and a radio personality at a local country station failed to identify McGraw in the courtroom. Wolf then testified that Russo, not McGraw, was the main actor in the melee, a statement that Russo’s attorney said was "from Mars."

The Erie County Sheriff’s Department maintains that McGraw attacked Detective Arthur Litzinger as the deputy pulled Chesney off the horse and originally charged McGraw with felony assault.

Another question repeated often by the defense — who arrested McGraw, when and where — was answered when Chief Thomas Steabell took the stand. Steabell, the ranking officer that night, negotiated directly with McGraw to get him off the star’s tour bus and into police custody.

"I told him, ‘Since you’re not going free, you’re under arrest,’" Steabell said.

The defense, challenging McGraw’s resisting arrest charge, questioned why McGraw was not handcuffed and placed in a police car. Steabell responded that he was making concessions by not cuffing the stars and
allowing them to follow in their own vehicle. "I was trying not to incite the crowd of people in the parking lot," he said.