Former Navy SEAL and current media personality/car dealer pitchman/security consultant Chris Heben, 45, was acquitted by a jury today of falsification and obstruction charges, following a two day trial in the Akron Municipal Court. He was accused by Bath police of lying to them about the circumstances of how he got shot last March and misleading investigators. It turns out, their case against him wasn't strong enough.
Heben's shooting made two rounds of national headlines. First, for tales of heroism when he reported he got shot in a Bath shopping plaza on March 28, 2014, by three black "gangbangers" before plugging his bullet wound with his finger and trying to chase them before driving himself to the nearby Bath fire/police department. Second, when he was arrested in September by Bath police who said he made the story all up and charged him with the two misdemeanors.
He was acquitted today around 4:30 p.m.
The jury delivered the verdict after less than a half hour of deliberation on Wednesday afternoon, finding Heben not guilty of falsification and obstructing official business in the trial that began Tuesday morning. The jury featured one woman visibly sleeping or resting her head in her hands with her eyes closed for a significant portion of Tuesday's deliberation. It was source of contention for Heben and his lawyer behind the scenes during the first day, and a source of relief when the not guilty verdict was announced. It also featured the president of an Akron car dealership (who didn't raise his hand during jury selection when asked if anybody had heard of Chris Heben. Heben's status as pitchman for Montrose Ford, also an Akron car dealer, was widely publicized in commercials and in the news, was brought up multiple times during the trial, and Heben's associates, executives from Montrose Ford who attended the trial, certainly knew who he was before the jury pool was even in the room).
We wrote about Heben's case back in a November feature story, which included interviews with Bath Police, Heben's camp's defense of him and criticism of the Bath investigation, Heben's murky legal history, and all of the media hoopla that surrounded Heben following the shooting.
At the trial this week, prosecutor Craig Morgan laid out the case against Heben. Two Bath police officers testified they were in the parking lot near where the shooting supposedly happened at the time it was supposed to have happened and noticed nothing out of the ordinary for a busy friday afternoon (like everybody else in the plaza at the time). There was no evidence of a shooting (shell casings, blood, shattered glass, anything) when they later analyzed the scene. A third officer who was posted on the route Heben said he took while following the shooters testified he didn't notice the cars or any sort of chase. His cell phone records put him elsewhere at the time of the shooting. Surveillance video along the route Heben said he took didn't pick up either car. Surveillance footage at the Bath safety center showed he arrived from a different direction than he said he did. Heben couldn't recall the make and model of the car from which the alleged shooters supposedly shot nor any part of its license plate.
But Heben's lawyer, Jim Burdon, methodically poked holes in the testimony of each of the prosecution's witnesses, making them admit that yes, it's possible, there was at least a slight chance they were mistaken about key points. It wasn't Burdon's job to prove Heben got shot in the West Market Plaza like Heben said he did. His job was to show that the prosecution's evidence against his client was fallible, and he did his job well.
Burdon was able to get the two Bath police officers who testified they were in the same parking lot at the time of the reported shooting that it's possible they may have missed it based on the positioning of their cars. Heben said he never heard a gunshot, and the altercation wasn't loud, nor the "chase" fast enough to draw attention. He was able to get the third police officer to admit it was possible he could have missed the two cars on the road.
The cell phone records that prosecutors said put Heben near Medina home at the time of the shooting didn't prove anything, the lawyer said, even though his calls pinged a Medina tower instead of one closer to the plaza. He got the Akron police cell phone record analyzer to admit calls don't always connect to the nearest tower. Investigators only analyzed four calls from around the time of the shooting and the towers each connected to, showing those connected to that Medina Tower. His lawyer got records of more than 2,000 calls that showed nearly all of those connected to the same tower, even when he was in his Montrose Ford office across the scene from where he said he got shot. Those records were essentially useless.
The reason why the surveillance video at the Bath safety center showed Heben arriving from another direction was he was in shock from the gunshot when he originally told them the route, and only "remembered" months later he took a different route there, Heben and his lawyer said.
In prosecutor Morgan's closing statement, he framed Heben as an attention-hungry person, who shot himself for publicity (which he did get). But, unfortunately for him, Bath police never tested Heben's hands for gun shot residue.
Police didn't do a lot of things in the days, weeks, and months following the shooting to come up with flawless answers during cross-examination by Heben's skillful lawyer at trial. And now he's acquitted.
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