Jack Wilson NOT Guilty Of Attempted Murder Hung Jury On Assault Charge

by | Aug 24, 2017 | County News, Courthouse, Crime, Cullman, Politics, Public Safety

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Jack Wilson NOT Guilty Of Attempted Murder Hung Jury On Assault Charge


★ 6 pm Update: Jack Wilson NOT GUILTY of Attempted Murder. Hung jury on Assault – 1st Degree charge. No verdict rendered.

12 noon Update: One juror dismissed. Alternate juror has been brought in. Deliberations start anew after 7+ hours of previous deliberations.

The 32nd Circuit Court at the Cullman County Courthouse has been a beehive of high-profile criminal trial activity this week.

On Monday and Tuesday, the 32nd Circuit Court saw the jury appeal trial of Dr. Elton Bouldin in his attempt to exonerated himself on a previous guilty sentence for TRESPASS in the 3rd Degree. This case ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury. A re-trial is expected at some time in the future.

Simultaneously in the large 3rd floor main Circuit Courtroom down the hall, the Honorable Circuit Judge Martha Williams is presiding over another high-profile case where the consequences of sentencing could be much greater and life-altering for the defendant than in the Bouldin case.

This jury trial pits the State of Alabama represented by 32nd Circuit District Attorney’s C. Wilson Blaylock and co-counsel Jeff Roberts against the defense team of R. Champ Crocker and Anna Sparks.

The State is conducting this case on behalf of

Crocker & Sparks are defending the accused,
JACK HAROLD WILLSON (aka Jack Wilson).

The charges facing Wilson are:

• Attempted Murder
• Assault – 1st Degree

Going back to Sunday, May 31, 2015, you may recall our reporting of a shooting incident along County Road 109 between Bremen and Dodge City.

The incident occurred around noon that Sunday on or near the property of Jack Wilson.

Cullman County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Cullman EMS, Dodge City Fire & Rescue, and Air Evac Lifeteam 15 responded to a Cullman e911 call about a man who had sustained a gunshot wound to the chest while sitting atop a farm tractor.

The man shot was Johnny Bentley, the central witness for the prosecution in this case.

At the time, Investigators with the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office determined that Jack Willson was the most likely suspect in the shooting.

As testified to in this trial, Jack Wilson left the scene of the shooting (and his own home) after he saw medical personnel begin to tend to Bentley’s wounds. He informed no one of his departure.

Thus ensued a 6-hour, heavy-resource-usage manhunt across southwestern Cullman County that also brought out hordes of big city media outlets for news coverage.

Sheriff Matt Gentry was in the middle of the manhunt operation throughout. We conducted multiple live interviews from the scene and surrounding areas.

Ultimately, Wilson was located at a residential address in Trimble around 6 pm that Sunday, Wilson admitted to shooting Bentley while claiming he feared for his life and acted in self-defense.

Fast forward over two years with multiple, multiple attorneys, a nonjury proceeding in the books, the destruction of his home by fire and a lengthy stay in the Cullman County Detention Center, Jack Wilson is getting his day in court.

Johnny Bentley was left paralyzed by the single gunshot wound Wilson delivered. It ripped through his chest causing severe nerve damage in his thoracic spine. Bentley is left wheelchair-bound as a result of his gunshot wound trauma.

On Monday morning, the principals in this trial conducted jury selection. A 14 person jury comprised of 12 men and two women were finally agreed on. Two of the group were named alternates jurors at the start of the deliberation process.

The court was closed Monday afternoon for the Solar Eclipse.

Tuesday morning, the attorneys made their opening statements to the jury.

C. Wilson Blaylock made the State’s position clear and straightforward (paraphrased):

‘Jack Wilson walked up – consciously and knowingly – shooting Johnny Bentley in the chest at close range with a pistol. Wilson was not on his property, he was on a shared easement OFF Wilson’s property at the time of the shooting, and he left the near mortally wounded, paralyzed Bentley to die sitting atop own tractor and fled the scene.’

Blaylock left the jurors with the distinct impression that Wilson was nothing more than a wide awake, cold-blooded killer.

R. Champ Crocker, in his opening statement for the defense, offered a starkly opposing case (paraphrased):

‘Johnny Bentley was an angry, disgruntled man who had ongoing legal and emotional issues with his neighbors (including Jack Wilson). There were near constant bickering and confrontations over an easement/gravel driveway adjacent to Wilson’s property. Crocker said on that Sunday, Bentley drove the tractor deep into Wilson’s property and initiated a ‘Tractor Attack’ against Wilson. That is, Johnny Bentley drove his tractor directly at Jack Wilson with the intent to run over and kill him. Wilson, with limited physical mobility (due to health/age issues) feared for his life, thus reached for his pistol, and shot Bentley to protect himself in self-defense.’

The essence of the entire trial was then framed by these opening statements.

Also on Monday afternoon, the State put Rigel Zuehlke on the stand as a witness.

Zuehlke had been to Circuit Court against Bentley in the past to protect and clarify his rights to use the easement. Zuehlke is a fellow neighbor of Bentley and Wilson. Zuehlke made it crystal clear to all present he was no friend of Bentley’s.

Zuehlke was the man who heard Bentley’s plaintive cries for help that Sunday morning and the one who called 911. Jurors got to hear the entirety of the graphic and disturbing 911 call. Dispatchers talked Zuehlke through how to reduce bleeding in Bentley’s chest while you could hear the gunshot victim’s moaning in the background with audible evidence of blood entering his throat and vocal chord area.

Jurors were left with the understanding that for whatever legal and interpersonal issues existed between Zuehlke and Bentley, Zuehlke saved Bentley’s life that day by calling 911, applying amateur wound care and riding out the crisis until professional medical practitioners arrived on scene.

It was clear that if Zuehlke had not been present, the paralyzed Bentley would have bled out alone on the tractor and died.

The State then called Johnny Bentley to the stand. Bentley presented his testimony in alignment with District Attorney Blaylock’s opening statement. The peak moment of the exchange that grabbed jurors’ attention was when Bentley said Wilson told him just before the shooting,

“Well you son of a bitch, you think I won’t shoot you?”

Bentley testified Wilson then shot him before he could reply to that statement. After being shot, Bentley claimed he recalled telling Wilson,

“How could you Jack? Why would you do this Jack?”

Concerned that if he didn’t keep quiet, Wilson might come back ‘to finish the job,’ Bentley claimed he then ‘shut up.’

Anna Sparks for the defense then cross examined Bentley.

She aggressively ran through a listed of infirmities and inconclusiveness in Bentley’s testimonies. If the goal was to engender doubt in the minds of jurors as well as call out the integrity and veracity of Bentley’s words, she appeared to be successful.

On Wednesday afternoon, jurors saw a cavalcade of witnesses that included some members of local law enforcement:

On- Scene Officers:
• Brian Medlock
• Jeff Rainwater

• Jon Montgomery (retired)
• Justin Tyus
• Ryan Hogeland

Jacqueline Bentley, Johnny Bentley’s wife, also took the stand.

On Wednesday, the series of witness testimony and cross-examination continued with:

• Marlin Richards
• Kassie Swann
• Steve Witcher
• Sherry Gilley
• Dr. Patrick Bosarge (a UAB trauma surgeon)

Jack Wilson took the stand in his own defense as well. His performance was sublime, and despite the State’s attempt to rattle the phlegmatic Wilson, he largely affirmed his case for self-defense that was outlined in his attorneys’ opening statements.

He also made clear he felt Johnny Bentley came towards him in attack mode with the intention of running him down with a tractor. He said he felt he had no other choice but to discharge his firearm to stop the onrushing tractor attack and survive.

Mid-Wednesday afternoon, the attorney’s wrapped up with their closing arguments. Their presentations were inspired, thorough, convincing and dramatic at the level of the best television legal drama.

Crocker explained to the jury that there was only ONE reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the evidence presented in the trial. He used LARGE visual aids that contained ground and aerial footage of the crime scene to make his points. He dubbed the State’s case a. ‘Magical Tractor Theory’ that was at best speculative and at worse patently false.

Blaylock effectively repeated his opening statement but with tons of evidence and testimony from the previous two days that confirmed his supposition that Wilson was a cold-blooded killer who was just fine leaving his neighbor alone to die in the hot sun on his tractor.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Roberts closed the trial with a scrappy, forceful, blunt courtroom plea. He backed up Blaylock’s line of reasoning as well as entertaining/scaring the jury by picking up Wilson’s gun and then providing a dramatization of what a man with a gun would do when terrified for his life in the face of an onrushing tractor.

Whether his performance swayed the jury, it is unknown. His open court portrayal was priceless nonetheless.

At 3:45 pm, Judge Marth Williams gave the jurors their final instructions and sent them off to deliberate.

Most observers in the courtroom expected a decision within 2 hours. That did not occur.

Instead, deliberation continued throughout the night with attorneys, court staff, family, friends and other interested parties on pins and needles until 9:15 pm when Judge Williams brought all parties back into the courtroom.

She informed everyone that the jurors were tired and they had a expressed a desire to go home, rest, gather their thoughts, and return Thursday to continue deliberation.

She granted their request. The deliberations will continue at 9 am Thursday.

The outcome is entirely up for grabs and unknown. The attorneys for both sides left nothing int he bag. The atmosphere of anticipation of a verdict is palpable thick. All parties involved seem borderline emotionally exhausted.

After 5 hours and 31 minutes of deliberation + whatever comes today, the verdict will be more than a legal ruling; it will be the cathartic release of two plus years of life challenges for all parties involved, regardless of a guilty or not guilty verdict.

We’ll let you know what the jury decides, once the render their decision.

The Courtroom of Honorable Circuit Judge Martha Williams

Jack Wilson NOT Guilty Of Attempted Murder Hung Jury On Assault Charge

Timothy Collins

Originally from Asheville, NC, Timothy brings an insightful holistic perspective as well as a mountain man tenacity to his various roles at Cullman Today. You can reach him at cullmantoday@gmail.com and/or (256) 615-8260.

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