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Gordon Murder Trial Daily Update

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Saturday, Sept. 25

After eight hours of deliberations, a jury in the murder trial of Richard Gordon admitted it was hopelessly deadlocked.

"We have no choice but to declare a mistrial," said Circuit Judge Tim Weaver, about 9:15 Friday night. "We will try this case again as soon as we can get it reset."

Gordon, 62, was charged with the Sept. 3, 2009 murder of Joseph Clifton, 31. Clifton was a neighbor of Gordon's and the two had been involved in a dispute over a gate Joseph and his wife, Denise, put across a road leading to their house. Gordon believed they had blocked a public roadway he needed access to.

After hearing two days of testimony, the jury began trying to reach a verdict shortly before one p.m. Friday, after the prosecution and defense presented closing arguments.

More than 20 relatives and friends of the Cliftons attended the trial and stayed on, waiting for hours for a verdict.

Most who attended the trial expected a fairly quick decision.

Joseph had been shot three times after pulling up to the gate which sparked neighborhood controversy. His two year old son was in the backseat of Clifton's vehicle at the time of the shooting but was unharmed.

Prosecution witnesses described Gordon's anger about the gate and threats he had made toward the Cliftons.

"He went down there with the sole purpose of killing either Joe or Denise. It did not matter which one. One of them was going to die," said District Attorney Don McSpadden, in his closing argument.

Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig told jurors that Gordon, who has a history of mental problems, was highly agitated by what he perceived as threats the Clifton's made against him and opened fire in self defense when Clifton grabbed a rifle in his truck.

"What we have here is a situation, a tragedy, where antagonism had build up...and it blew up," said Rosenzwieg. "It is undisputed that Clifton had a gun."

As deliberations wore on, it became apparent some jurors could not agree on the verdict of first degree murder, the prosecution wanted.

Jurors twice sent out questions to Judge Weaver and, shortly after nine p.m., Weaver called attorneys into the courtroom, after receiving a third note.

"We are hopelessly deadlocked," Weaver read from the note, which went on to say one person had serious doubts about a verdict of Murder 1 and wanted a verdict of manslaughter.

After discussing the situation, jurors were called into the courtroom.

"Do you believe further deliberations will be fruitful to the resolution of this case?" asked the Judge.

"No sir, we are hopelessly deadlocked," the jury foreperson replied. "We do not anticipate a change."

Several members of the audience sobbed and jury members appeared somber and frustrated as the judge declared a mistrial.

As a security precaution, Judge Weaver asked jurors and spectators to remain seated as Gordon was taken from the courtroom to jail.

Jurors then filed out.

With tears running down her face, Denise Clifton said, "They (the jury) tried. At least they cared."

Outside the courthouse, a female juror spoke with supporters of the Clifton family about the deadlock.

"I feel terrible," said the juror, who did not want to be identified. "We just couldn't get her to change her mind."

The juror explained that, initially, jurors were fairly evenly split as to whether there was enough evidence to convict Gordon of murder. But, as they went through the evidence piece by piece, 11 jurors expressed support for a murder conviction.

"We said to her, 'There are 11 of us. You can't see what we're seeing?'" said the juror. But, she explained, the holdout juror was firm in her conviction there was not enough evidence of premeditated murder.

Clifton supporters expressed frustration that a dangerous man, who would do harm to other Clifton family members if released, had escaped conviction.

Gordon will be returned to the Izard County Detention Center, where he has been incarcerated since the shooting.

Friday Afternoon, Sept. 24

After hearing closing arguments this morning, the jury in the Richard Gordon murder trial has begun its deliberations.

Gordon was arrested on Sept. 3 2009 in connection with the shooting death of Joseph Clifton, a neighbor in rural Viola.

A jury was picked to hear the case on Tuesday, Sept. 21.

Both the prosecution and defense rested yesterday, after presenting two days of witnesses and evidence.

The trial centered on a dispute between Gordon, 61, and Joseph and Denise Clifton. The Cliftons had installed a gate across the road leading to their home. Gordon and other neighbors felt they were being denied access to a public road and one neighbor filed suit.

Prosecutors accused Gordon of going to the Clifton property and shooting Clifton three times as he sat in his vehicle. Clifton's two year old son, who was in the backseat, was not injured.

In his closing argument, District Attorney Don McSpadden reminded jurors that Gordon was not involved in the lawsuit over the gated road and claimed the Clifton family had tried to avoid contact with him.

McSpadden told jurors Gordon decided to take the law into his own hands after a day of "boiling and stewing" over the land dispute and his ill feeling toward the Cliftons.

"This defendant is guilty of murder in the first degree," said McSpadden. "He went down there with the sole purpose of killing either Joe or Denise. It did not matter which one. One of them was going to die."

Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig told jurors "this case is a tragedy all around", that Gordon and the Cliftons had turned a small dispute into antagonism that built up...and "blew up."

Rosenzweig told jurors that it was "undisputed" that Gordon suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, relating to combat in Viet Nam.

Rosenzweig said Gordon's ability to think clearly was clouded by his mental problems and the dispute with the Cliftons.

Rosenzweig also claimed a crime scene photo showing a rifle on the front seat of Clifton's vehicle is proof Clifton was a threat to Gordon when they met.

"Put yourself in his position," Rosenzweig told jurors. "Joe Clifton had told him, 'I am going to shoot you and he saw a gun. I submit to you, that is enough to start that extreme emotion disturbance (that led to the shooting)."

Jurors can find Gordon guilty of first degree murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide.

Actual deliberations began about 12:30 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 24:

After hearing two days of testimony, the jury in the Richard Gordon murder trial will begin deliberations later today.

The prosecution wrapped up its case Thursday morning after calling 21 witnesses, in an attempt to prove that Gordon murdered his neighbor, Joseph Clifton, in Sept. of 2009.

In a somewhat unusual move, the defense called Richard Gordon as its first witness.

"Did you shoot Joseph Clifton?" asked defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig.

"Yes, I did," responded Gordon.

"Do you regret it?" Rosenzweig followed up.

"Yes," replied Gordon. "If I had it to do over again, I wish he would have shot me."

Under questioning, Gordon went on to describe two tours of combat in Viet Nam which he claims led to nearly 40 years of mental and emotional problems. Problems the Veterans Administration has diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"Nightmares. I really don't like to associate with too many people. I try to avoid stressful situations... I self medicate with alcohol," Gordon said when asked how PTSD affects him.

Gordon testified he and his wife moved to rural Viola in 2002 to "get away" from stress and people.

But, in 2009, Gordon found himself in a neighborhood dispute. Joseph and Denise Clifton had installed a locked gate across the road that leads to their home. Gordon supported a neighbor who filed a lawsuit claiming the Cliftons had illegally closed a public roadway.

Gordon testified about several run-ins with the Cliftons, including one in which Joseph Clifton allegedly threatened him.

"That road's mine," Gordon quoted Clifton as saying, "Stay off my road. If I see you on the road, I'll shoot you for trespassing."

Gordon claimed that, on Sept. 3, 2009, he went to the area of the gate dispute to look for property markers, because he was considering buying near by farmland he was leasing.

Gordon testified he was armed with a pistol because of problems with the Cliftons and, while he was still there, Joseph Clifton drove up.

"He asked me what I was doing on his road," Gordon said. "I told him it is not his road. It's a county road...He said, 'I told you I was going to shoot you for trespassing.' I said 'You are not going to shoot nobody. It's a county road,'... He reached down, he had a rifle in the truck. He proceeded to pull the rifle up and I opened fire to protect myself."

While Gordon's testimony allowed him to promote his claim of self defense, his unusual decision to testify opened the door for tough questioning by the state.

Prosecutor Carla Powell reminded Clifton his wife quoted him as saying 'I shot Joe Clifton graveyard dead' and 'Joe Clifton had begged him not to shoot him but he had done it anyway.'"

Gordon testified he was upset and distraught after the shooting and did not remember making those statements.

Powell also used Veterans Administration medical records to ask Clifton about statements he made to doctors in which he admitted to violent, impulsive behavior.

One doctor wrote, "the veteran experiences situations where he acts violently without thinking."

In each instance, Gordon testified he did not recall making the comments.

Powell accused him of "selective memory", remembering only things that may help his case.

The defense rested after calling Dr. Bob Gale to the stand. Gale, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating PTSD patents, examined Gordon and reviewed his medical records.

Gale found that Gordon does suffer from "moderately severe" Post Traumatic Stress related to his service in Viet Nam.

Gale testified that Gordon's conflict with the Cliftons made him more and more agitated.

"He fully believed, 'they're after me,'" testified Gale.

The day he encountered Joseph Clifton, Gale said Gordon perceived his life was in danger and he "shot and shot...just like in Viet Nam, responding to immediate threat, the way he was trained" (by the Army).

Trial testimony ended with the prosecution calling a rebuttal witness, Dr William Cochran.

Cochran, a psychologist, examined Gordon, months ago, under a court order and ruled he was competent to stand trial.

Cochran testified, after his interviews with Gordon, he believed Gordon had a "mental disability but not a mental defect." He was able to understand what was going on around him and assist in his defense.

At nine a.m. Friday, Judge Tim Weaver will read instructions to the jury and the prosecution and defense will present closing arguments.

The jury should begin its deliberations by late morning or early afternoon.

insisted Gordon is not guilty of murder.

"ThThursday, Sept. 24

"The proof will show the defendant is guilty of murder. That he purposely killed Joe Clifton."

With those words, District Attorney Don McSpadden began his opening statement to jurors hearing the Richard Gordon murder trial.

McSpadden warned jurors the defense would put up a "smokescreen" by talking about a long simmering dispute between Gordon and Clifton.

"This is not a land dispute," said McSpadden. "This is not a road dispute. This is about a death, a murder."

Richard Gordon was arrested after the Sept. 3, 2009 shooting death of Joseph Clifton, as Clifton and his two year old son prepared to drive through a gate to their home outside of Viola.

The gate, which Clifton and his wife installed after buying their house in 2007, had resulted in a lawsuit filed by a neighbor. Gordon supported the contention the gate illegally blocked their access to land they owned or leased.

McSpadden told jurors the defense would also claim that Gordon had mental problems and acted in self defense.

Noting that he had been judged competent to stand trial, McSpadden said evidence will show that Gordon is a selfish man who wanted "his way".

"With the defendant, it's his way or no way," said McSpadden.

McSpadden insisted evidence will show that Gordon faced no threat from Clifton when he shot him, adding a man who acted in self defense would have called the police.

Instead, McSpadden said, Gordon did nothing. He left a fatally wounded man and his young son stranded in their vehicle until Clifton's wife, Denise, arrived home to discover them.

"This is a tragedy all around," said defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig as he began his opening statement.

Rosenzweig did not deny that his client shot and killed Clifton. But he e proper charge is not murder but manslaughter," said Rosenzweig, explaining manslaughter covers killing someone in self defense or acting under an extreme emotion disturbance.

Rosenzweig told jurors Gordon was found, by the Veterans Administration, to suffer from post tramatic stress disorder stemming from two tours of duty in Viet Nam.

According to Rosenzweig, months of dispute with the Clifton's, had clouded Gordon's judgement and caused him to act rashly when he felt threatened in September of 2009.

After opening statements, jurors heard the 911 call Denise Clifton placed after discovering her husband's lifeless body slumped over in his vehicle.

"My husband has been shot," Clifton screamed as she pleaded for help.

A short time later, Clifton took the witness stand.

She described the dispute that arose when she and her husband moved a gate to their property line to keep out people who used the rugged land around them to grow marijuana and cook meth.

Clifton said Gordon and others who complained about the gate could access their land in other ways. She also described a series of run-ins with Gordon.

Then, Clifton gave an emotional, tear filled description of driving up behind her husband's vehicle and waiting, thinking he and her son were looking at a deer on the property.

When she finally walked to the truck, she found her husband had been shot.

"The first thing I saw was a bullet hole in his side and I started screaming at him," said Clifton. "He was not responding and I knew what had happened."

Clifton, a nurse, described calling 911 while making a futile effort to revive her husband.

Clifton also spoke of finding her son cowering on the backseat floorboard.

"He didn't appear to have any blood on him," Clifton testified. "Physically he was o.k. but he was drenched in sweat. He was pale as a ghost. There are not words to describe how terrified he looked."

A series of first responders and law enforcement officers who arrived on the scene, described their actions and investigations to jurors. Because officers knew of the dispute between Gordon and Clifton, they quickly took Gordon into custody.

During cross examination, defense attorney Rosenzweig concentrated on confirming that Clifton had a rifle in his vehicle. While witnesses indicated the gun was wedged between a seat and the console of the vehicle, Rosenzweig pointed to a police photo which shows the gun lying on the passenger seat, an apparent attempt to show Clifton was reaching for a weapon causing Gordon to open fire in self defense.

After calling 18 witnesses on Wednesday, the prosecution plans to wrap up its case on Thursday.

Since the defense intends to call fewer witnesses, Judge Tim Weaver hopes the case will go to the jury on Friday.

Wednesday, Sept. 22:

The prosecution and defense are making their opening statements today (Wednesday, Sept. 22) as the Richard Gordon murder trial begins at the Fulton County courthouse.

Gordon, of Viola, is charged with the Sept. 2009 shooting death of Joseph Clifton, a neighbor with whom he had a property dispute.

The trial actually began yesterday with an exhausting day of jury selection.

About 135 potential jurors reported to Circuit Court at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The jury panel, 12 jurors and two alternates, was not filled until 9:30 last night.

Judge Tim Weaver called four jurors at a time into the jury deliberation room where they were questioned by Prosecutor Dwayne Plumlee and Defense Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig.

Rosenzweig had requested a change of venue and, while the motion was denied, finding impartial jurors both sides could agree on was not easy.

The process was especially difficult for about 60 potential jurors who waited for more than 13 hours in a hot courtroom for their chance to serve.

But, with a jury in place, the trial, which is expected to last at least three days, is ready to begin.

Tuesday, Sept. 22:

The murder trial of Richard Gordon began on Tuesday, Sept. 21. with the questioning of potential jurors. A pool of about 135 possible jurors packed the courtroom when the session began. The prosecution and defense began the long process of questioning four citizens at a time. 12 jurors and two alternates had to be selected before the trial could actually begin.

The prosecution, led by Fulton County Prosecutor Dwayne Plumlee, indicated it intended to call more than 25 witnesses, many of them law enforcement investigators, during the course of the trial.

The defense, led by Little Rock Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, plans to call, at least, five witnesses as well as, possibly, recalling some prosecution witnesses.

Judge Tim Weaver told potential jurors to expect four days of testimony.

Gordon is charged with the September 2009 shooting death of Joseph Clifton in Viola. Gordon and Clifton were neighbors and had been involved in a dispute over Clifton's decision to put a gate across the road to his home. Gordon claimed Clifton had illegally closed a public roadway he needed access to. Legal action over the dispute was in progress at the time of the shooting.

While Gordon was found mentally competent to stand trial, the defense has indicated it intends to present evidence of Gordon's "diminished mental capacity" at the time of the shooting.

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