ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As the forewoman finished reading the jury’s verdict clearing Tim McGraw
and Kenny Chesney
of all charges, McGraw wrapped Chesney in a bear hug and
McGraw’s wife Faith Hill wiped away a tear. The crowd in Orchard Park Town Court, near Buffalo, disobeyed the judge’s
orders and warmly applauded.
McGraw hugged his lawyer next, and, as his camp
continued to celebrate, he stared down Erie County
Sheriff Patrick Gallivan. Both had refused to back
down in the case, which stemmed from a melee last June
during a George Strait Country Music Festival at Ralph Wilson
Stadium, near here.
Calmly and coolly, McGraw took a laminated copy of a
People magazine article in which the sheriff had
commented about the star and walked toward Gallivan.
He tossed the article onto the lap of the sheriff, who
sat in the front row, one row ahead of several
Hill, who flew through the night from Hawaii (where she had taken part in ceremonies for the release of the movie Pearl Harbor, which features her new single) to be here,
telephoned her children and embraced
McGraw. Chesney, seemingly unable to contain his relief,
flashed an even bigger smile than the one he had
shown while cracking jokes on the witness stand.
The biggest spectator crowd of the trial greeted the stars on
their way out of the courtroom with raucous applause.
McGraw, overcome with relief, made his first statement outside the courtroom
since the trial began.
"We have been waiting 11 months to have our day in
trial, we didn’t want any plea bargain, we wanted to
tell our story and tell the truth," he said. "The
justice system works. The people of Buffalo have been
wonderful to us, we have nothing against them. We’ll
be back, we’ll play music here and just appreciate
everybody’s support. Justice prevails."
Said Chesney, "Tim and I told the truth for 11 months
and we sat tight, we kept our lips shut, and we told
the truth this week, and the truth prevailed."
As for Buffalo fans, he said, "Tell them not to worry.
We’ll be back."
McGraw, Hill and Chesney then signed every last
autograph, sharing their jubilation with their fans.
Then McGraw said "Thank you," and waved good-bye as he entered a waiting
SUV with Hill, headed for the airport.
Scott Siman, McGraw’s manager, said McGraw’s lost concert dates due to this case were
"gone forever" but that all McGraw cared about was
clearing his name. McGraw elected to take the stand the
day before and told the jury his
"character had been assassinated, a lot."
Having his day in court was paramount to McGraw, Siman
"It was really important to him as a father, to show
his kids that when you do the right thing, you can
stand and defend yourself and trust the system to work
for you," Siman said.
In his closing argument Wednesday morning, McGraw’s lawyer,
Thomas Eoannou said, "In about a minute, I’m going to
ask you to set this circus down. That’s the name of
Tim McGraw’s last album. It was written about this
Eoannou singled out Sheriff Gallivan and said the
trial was about protecting the image of "a politician"
and the Erie County Sheriff’s Department and about
making money for the two deputies who say they were
assaulted by McGraw. Both deputies testified that they
had talked with civil attorneys, and one had had McGraw and Chesney
served with a lawsuit on their way into court Monday.
McGraw and Chesney were the real victims, Eoannou
"Because you put on a badge and a blue suit does not
mean that you can hit people," he said, saying that
McGraw had every right to intervene when the deputies
were pulling Chesney off a police horse because
McGraw was preventing Chesney from falling onto the
McGraw admitted pushing a deputy but denied grabbing
him by the neck and refusing to let go, as the deputy
In his closing argument, chief prosecutor Lou Hremski said that McGraw had
tried to charm him and asked the jury not to be
swayed by his congenial personality and celebrity.
McGraw did "what someone with power does" and he stepped
in and took control without knowing the circumstances,
Hremski said. Propelled by ego, McGraw "stepped
outside his little world," Hremski said. "When you do
that, you answer to us."
Justice John M. Curran, who replaced the original judge
after he suffered a heart attack during the trial last week,
instructed the jury that if McGraw was reasonably
justified in pushing a police officer, they must throw
out all charges.
That the jury did so disappointed Sheriff Gallivan.
"I will never believe that someone, famous or not, can
put their hands on a police officer, push them or wrap
their arms around his neck while a police officer is
performing their duty," Gallivan said outside the trial, adding that the jury
"made the job of every police officer in Western New
York much more difficult."
McGraw was acquitted of charges of misdemeanor
assault, obstruction of justice, harassment, menacing
and resisting arrest. Chesney was cleared of
disorderly conduct, and former tour manager Mark Russo was
acquitted on all his charges.
"I think a performer gave a great performance,"
Gallivan said of McGraw.
The sheriff condemned the stars’ jovial behavior in
court, as well as Chesney’s riding a horse onto the
Tonight Show, calling it "an affront to law-abiding
citizens and law enforcement."
When asked about McGraw’s tossing the People magazine article at him, Gallivan said, "Tim McGraw did throw something at
me which I think is indicative of the type of
individual that he is, and I don’t think that his
behavior in court when he did that was any different
than his reaction at Ralph Wilson Stadium on June 3."
McGraw answered no questions after making his
statement, saying he "needed to go home to his kids." Mark Rokitka of the county sheriff’s
department has filed a civil lawsuit for personal
injury against McGraw, Chesney and Russo. McGraw has filed
a notice of claim to keep the option of filing a
lawsuit against Erie County alive.