By Gregory J. Lamoureux
ST. ALBANS: A jury trial began this morning for a Georgia man who gunned down two men just after the New Year in 2017.
The incident happened on Georgia Mountain Road, resulting in the death of David Hill and seriously wounding Mark Brito. The pair were loading a logging skidder onto a lowboy trailer on the road near the driveway of the family home of Ethan Gratton, who shot Hill and Brito with a handgun.
According to defense counsel, Gratton was acting in self defense after Hill punched Gratton in the face, breaking his nose and chipping some of his teeth.
The shooting left Brito with serious brain injuries, and for months he couldn’t remember the events that left him in a coma for four weeks, according to Franklin County State’s Attorney Jim Hughes.
That all changed this week, just hours before the start of Gratton’s jury trial in Superior Court in St. Albans.
According to Hughes, Brito can now remember the details of the incident and what lead up to the shooting, but the Jury isn’t expected to hear that when he takes the stand later today.
That is because Hughes did not disclose to the defense team until late last week that he planned to call Brito as a witness, and even then, didn’t inform them that Brito would be able to recall the events on that fateful winter day.
Huges told the court that he just learned of Brito’s recollection of the events on Monday evening when he met with the man in preparation for the trial. According to Hughes, he then immediately called Gratton’s defense attorney, Kelly Green of the Defender General’s office to inform her that he does, in fact, remember the shooting.
The County Courier was the only news organization in the court room Monday and Tuesday during jury selection and legal arguments, including when the new information about Brito’s memory was presented.
When pressed on the subject Tuesday afternoon in Criminal court, Hughes told the court that he had no previous information that Brito was beginning to recall more of the event, and last he knew he didn’t recall anything of substance.
Green, Gratton’s defense attorney, quipped “Apparently the prosecution didn’t care enough about their witness to keep track of him enough to know that his memory was improving.”
Green asked that Brito not be allowed to testify at all since his testimony was not previously gathered in a deposition. She also noted that since the defense had not previously known Brito was expected to testify, they didn’t schedule a deposition to determine what he would likely say on the stand.
Green also noted that the timing of Brito’s recollection seemed odd.
“He suddenly remembers all the events in detail?” Green queried.
Judge Gregory Rainville who is presiding over the trial would not give a clear and definite ruling Tuesday afternoon if Brito would testify, but did say his testimony would in the very least be limited to very basic facts in the case, such as how he knew David Hill, and why the two of them were there that day.
Even if Brito was to testify, it is not clear how accurate his recollection would be, which Rainville also said he was concerned about. With the lack of time, no record of his medical treatment or doctor’s notes could be inspected to better determine the accuracy of his memory of the events that day, Rainville noted.
According to both the prosecution and the defense, 11 months after the shooting, Brito was interviewed by police about what he recalled. At that point, he told police he didn’t remember details in the case, and he didn’t remember the shooting itself. He only remembered riding in Hill’s truck to the scene of the shooting.
Opening arguments are underway in the case, which is expected to follow with some sort of very basic testimony from Brito when the state begins presenting their case, that is if Judge Rainville allows even the most basic testimony to be allowed from the only surviving victim in the shooting.
The jury is also expected to hear from the medical examiner, the paramedic (a former army medic) that treated Brito on the way to the hospital, members of the crime scene search team, and Gratton’s own father. It is unclear if Gratton himself with take the stand, but if he does it will likely be next week.
The trial is scheduled to continue through the end of next week. Judge Rainville told members of the jury to keep the weekend of March 30-31 free in case they have to deliberate through the weekend.
We’ll have more coverage in this week print edition.