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Jury now deliberating in Zachary Wester trial, will resume deliberations in morning

Over the last week, Jackson County jurors heard from a dozen alleged victims of Wester who...
Over the last week, Jackson County jurors heard from a dozen alleged victims of Wester who claim the drugs found in their cars during traffic stops were not theirs. On Friday, jurors heard Wester’s side of the story.(WJHG/WECP)
Published: May. 17, 2021 at 9:41 AM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 2:54 PM CDT
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MARIANNA, Fla (WCTV) - The jury in the Zachary Wester trial has decided to go home for the evening and will return Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. ET.

JURY NOW DELIBERATING

A jury started deliberating Monday afternoon in the misconduct trial of former Jackson County Deputy Zachary Wester. He’s accused of planting drugs during 12 traffic stops and falsifying the accompanying arrest reports.

The judge gave jurors some final instructions before sending them back to the jury room to deliberate at 3:40 p.m. Eastern Time Monday.

Judge James Goodman cautioned the jurors against communicating with anyone outside the jury room during deliberations and told jurors they must leave their cell phones and other electronic devices outside with the bailiff.

Wester was arrested in 2019 after an FDLE investigation and is facing 67 felony counts, including official misconduct, fabricating evidence, perjury, false imprisonment and possession of controlled substances.

WCTV has a crew at the Jackson County Courthouse and will keep you updated on a verdict.

Zachary Wester’s defense attorney made his final arguments to the jury Monday afternoon, as the former Jackson County deputy faces dozens of felony charges.

Wester was arrested in 2019 and accused of planting drugs during 12 traffic stops.

“Inspect the case, look under the hood, kick the tires, check the belts. Is it really as good as it appears?” defense attorney Ryan Davis asked the jury.

You can watch a livestream of the trial on the WCTV Facebook page or below.

Davis told the jury Wester categorically denies planting evidence or falsifying arrest reports.

“Why would he plant them when it’s out there to find?” Davis said. “Why would Mr. Wester do this?”

He pointed to the criminal records - and drug convictions - of many of the drivers and says it’s only natural they would claim the drugs were not theirs.

“It’s not unusual for somebody to deny knowledge,” Davis said.

Davis told the jury that all of the motorists who testified against Wester had their charges dropped and most are also suing Wester in civil court.

Davis also discussed at length the body cam videos at the center of the state’s case. Prosecutors contend there were partial and missing videos because Wester “didn’t want there to be videos.”

Davis told the jury that Wester may be responsible for recording and downloading the videos, but not reviewing or archiving them. He referenced one witness who testified that videos at the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office were being deleted within 90 to 120 days. He also pointed out that only three of the videos in evidence came from JCSO, the rest came from the State Attorney’s Office.

“Who was in charge of that?” Davis asked, suggesting that record-keeping at JCSO may have been a factor in whether the videos existed.

Davis also reiterated there was a legitimate explanation for the unsecured drugs found in Wester’s patrol car the day he was called into JCSO and suspended.

Davis pointed to Wester’s testimony on Friday, in which Wester said he was in his patrol car in the JCSO parking lot, processing a box of drugs seized earlier the same day. Wester testified that he told his superiors about it before he was escorted out, but the defense attorney said they did not recall that when asked about it on the stand.

“They were concerned about suspending him and getting him out of the building, that was their concern,” Davis told the jury.

Davis wrapped up his arguments to the jury saying they have no choice but to find Wester not guilty.

“There is no direct evidence that Mr. Wester did anything wrong. Not one person testified they saw him do anything unusual,” Davis said.

The judge has called a lunch recess. The jury is expected to get some final instructions and begin deliberating after lunch.

PROSECUTION’S CLOSING ARGUMENT

“This is a case of abuse of an incredible power,” prosecutor Tom Williams told the jury, “and an abuse of incredible trust.”

“He (Wester) could not have made contact with these people without using that badge and that authority and that uniform,” Williams said of the traffic stops and what he contends was an emerging “pattern of crimes.”

Williams pointed out that during the 12 traffic stops, Wester’s body cam videos were either incomplete or don’t exist at all and none show the actual discovery of the drugs.

“It’s because it wasn’t there,” the prosecutor kept repeating as he described the stops and the discovery of methamphetamine only after Wester returned to his patrol car.

Williams claims Wester planted the drugs and had a pre-loaded field test kit in his car.

“He used that to arrest these people for crimes they did not commit,” Williams told the jury.

The defense began its closing arguments around 1 p.m. Eastern Time.

Judge James Goodman told jurors to “get comfortable” Monday morning as he read lengthy final instructions on the 67 felony charges against Wester, including the elements the state must prove for each crime alleged.

The verdict form itself is 12 pages long.

“It is up to you the jury to determine which evidence is reliable,” the judge told the jury.

He told them to focus on the nature and quality of the evidence, not on the quantity of it.

“It is up to the state to prove the defendant’s guilt,” the judge told the jury. “Whatever verdict you render, it must be unanimous.”

Wester was arrested in 2019 and is facing 67 felony counts, including racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, perjury, false imprisonment and possession of controlled substances.

He denied planting drugs in any of the 12 traffic stops and denied falsifying any of the arrest reports.

Monday morning, attorneys spent more than an hour going over jury instructions.

Wester was arrested in 2019 and is facing 67 felony counts, including official misconduct, fabricating evidence, perjury, false imprisonment and possession of controlled substances.

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