Verdict Upheld in Judge Roll's Border Vigilante Trial
(CN) - Border vigilante Roger Barnett must pay a group of illegal immigrants over $73,000 in damages, the 9th Circuit affirmed in an unpublished opinion on Thursday. In 2009, the late Chief Judge John Roll of Arizona, who was killed in the recent Tucson shooting, reportedly received several death threats as he presided over the trial.
After an eight-day trial in 2009, a civil jury ruled for the immigrants who said Barnett accosted them as they were resting near Arizona on State Highway 80 in March 2004. On appeal, the Arizona rancher said the trial court had erred by not instructing the jury on self defense against the plaintiffs' claims of emotional distress and assault.
Driving with his dog in an All Terrain Vehicle, Barnett held the aliens at gunpoint until a Border Patrol agent arrived, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented the group.
Barnett told the aliens in Spanish, "My dog is hungry, and he's hungry for ass," according to the group's complaint.
The San Francisco-based federal appeals panel found that the late judge was correct in declining to give jurors a self-defense instruction, since Barnett testified that "none of the plaintiffs were armed or threatened him in any other way."
At a hearing on this appeal last month, David Urias, an attorney who represented the immigrants, said the jury had heard compelling evidence at trial that Barnett had assaulted his clients and that they had endured severe emotional distress.
"They were held at gunpoint by Roger Barnett with a loaded .40-caliber handgun," Urias said at the hearing. "The jury heard testimony about how he berated them with racial slurs and obscenities ... how he pointed his gun at the heads of these appellees, how one got down on her knees and begged for her life, how he cursed at her and threatened her in response."
The unsigned six-page ruling also affirmed Roll's rejection of arguments that Barnett did not cause his victims to suffer emotional distress, saying that a psychologist diagnosed three of the four plaintiffs in the case with post-traumatic stress disorder. While there are 16 plaintiffs named in the case, the ruling states that the verdict was only returned for four.
Barnett's defense attorneys had attacked the credibility of the plaintiffs' expert witness, who made the diagnoses, but the appellate judges said the plaintiff's expert witness used "diagnostic techniques [that] are part of a valid methodology for psychological evaluation."
"To assess the psychological health of the appellees, Dr. Machabanski conducted clinical interviews lasting four to six hours each," the ruling states. "During these interviews, he made clinical observations regarding each person's affect and gathered data on each person's life history, level of function prior to the assault, and functioning since the assault."
The judges also dismissed Barnett's claims that the plaintiffs in the original case made "frivolous" claims against his wife, which failed to convince the jury and merited compensation for legal fees.
"We have reviewed the record and conclude that plaintiffs' claims against Barbara [Barnett] ... were not frivolous because, even though the plaintiffs did not ultimately prevail on these claims, there was evidence to support them," the judges wrote.
Roll was one of six killed in the Jan. 8 shooting at an open meeting for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a Safeway parking lot. More than a dozen others were shot or injured that day, including Giffords who survived being shot in the head at close range. This January, the Arizona Republic reported that talk-radio hosts "cranked up controversy" about the case in 2009, and "stirred audiences into making threats" against Roll.
The paper reported that Roll received more than 200 calls in one afternoon, had his personal information posted online and had to accept "unnerving and invasive" protection by the Marshalls Service for a month.