The Truth Staff
On Wednesday, November 10, Vontae Garrett, a military veteran and former correctional officer, was found not guilty by a jury for the October 22, 2022 murder of Mark Weisinger, Jr. The verdict set Garrett free after having spent nine months in jail awaiting his trial.
According to Garrett’s attorney Joshua Williams, who also is a District 41 Republican state representative for Sylvania Township, the fact that his client, a man “entirely innocent of this charge,” was unable to assert his self-defense argument pre-trial meant that Garrett – and other defendants like him – was at the mercy of the prosecution until the defense presented its case during trial.
The inability of Garrett to assert such a defense, upon being charged, meant that he could not use it for the purpose of setting bond pre-trial, could not create a presumption of innocence that the prosecutors would have to rebut at trial and would make it almost necessary for the accused to take the stand and explain and defend his actions.
As a result, in June, state Reps Williams and Brett Hudson Hillyer (R. Uhrichsville) introduced the Self Defense Protection Act. The Act will enable defendants to assert self-defense, defense of one’s own property or defense of another party prial to trial and force the prosecution to counter that assertion during the presentation of their case at trial.
In a press conference on the day following the jury verdict, Williams spoke of the proposed Self Defense Protection Act and what a change in Ohio law could mean for defendants such as Garrett going forward. Prior to the trial, Garrett was forced to sell his car and house in order to pay for his defense since he was jailed and not able to rely on wages or salary.
However important the Self Defense Protection Act might mean to defendants in the future, Williams’ press conference last week was focused primarily on the State’s actions leading up to this particular trial and how law enforcement’s negligence placed his client’s freedom at risk.
“If the State of Ohio had taken the time to look at all the video evidence and listen to all of the witnesses without bias, these charges would never have been filed,” said Williams decrying the fact that a critical piece of evidence, a video of the incident, had been lost.
The October 2022 shooting incident began with a dispute inside of a bar at 1776 Arlington Avenue when the victim, Weisinger, began an altercation with a member of the group Garrett was with. During Garrett’s testimony at trial, he said that he stayed away from the dispute involving his party and Weisinger and his friend, Michael Binns, who was known to be armed.
Eventually the action spread out into the street as the two men began running toward Garrett and a single gunshot rang out from another party. When Binns and Weisinger reached for what appeared to be guns, Garrett, who had a concealed carry license, brought his weapon out and fired, killing Weisinger.
Although no gun was found on Weisinger, the police failed to detain Binns who was later seen on video going through the pockets of his friend and police also failed to retain a copy of a video from a private residence, according to Williams, that would “have exonerated” his client. The video was “either negligently misplaced of lost,” said Williams and “that misstake may be the form of a lawsuit.”
According to Williams, the homeowner showed the video immediately to police who then downloaded a copy of it onto a police-issue phone. At trial the homeowner testified that the video also contained audio in which Weisinger could be clearly heard exhorting Binns to “shoot.”
That video, said Williams, “could have reduced his bond … it could have exonerated him. They had at least 90 days to find it … they never tried any investigative techniques that we hold our law enforcement [officials] to.”
On Thursday, Williams said that his law firm is considering a lawsuit against TPD due to the department’s “malfeasance and gross negligence” for its failure to safeguard the evidence that, by itself, would have exonerated his client in the initial phases of the investigation.
Garrett, who has lost nine months of his life, a job and his possessions, will be trying to resume his law enforcement career, he said, even as he acknowledged the difficulty in doing so with the cloud of such an incident hanging over his head. Garrett and Williams will be making a decision soon about bringing the lawsuit against the Toledo Police Department.