By MICHAEL HARRISON
Special to The Times
For the second time in six months, Jason Daniel Clary, 39, of Hiddenite, arrived at the Alexander County Courthouse without certainty that he would return home with his family. Clary’s retrial on a charge of First Degree Murder in the April 11, 2016, shooting death of Travis Dean Harold, age 35, also of Hiddenite, culminated Tuesday in a verdict of not guilty in Alexander County Superior Court.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Martin McGee, of Concord, presided over both trials. Following eight days of presenting evidence, the prosecution, led by District Attorney Sarah Kirkman, rested its case on Friday, March 8.
In a strategic decision by Clary’s attorney, Robert Campbell of Taylorsville, the defense called no witnesses and offered no evidence. The maneuver afforded Campbell the opportunity to speak last to the jury before they began their deliberations. The same strategy preceded a positive outcome for Clary in his first trial in September of last year when a twelve person jury deadlocked 8 – 4 for acquittal.
Campbell, speaking to this jury during closing arguments on Monday, March 11, reviewed and contested various exhibits of evidence that had been presented by the state during the course of the trial. As the shooting had occurred in the driveway of Clary’s residence, after Travis Harold had arrived, uninvited, with two companions and carrying a metal pipe, Campbell argued that Clary was justified in defending himself under North Carolina’s Stand Your Ground law (The Castle Doctrine), which allows one to use force, deadly or otherwise, if the force is reasonable and necessary to defend oneself, one’s property, or a third person.
Campbell replayed video of the shooting incident, which had been recorded by Clary’s then girlfriend (now wife), Brittany Gilbert, using her cell phone. Campbell dissected the recording, showing a frame-by-frame progression in a PowerPoint presentation to the jury. The attorney argued that Travis Harold could be seen moving toward Jason Clary in a threatening manner while holding the metal pipe.
Following Attorney Campbell’s initial presentation, DA Kirkman argued for the prosecution. She also reviewed the video, contending that it proved that Clary was the one who actually closed the gap between himself and Harold by walking toward Travis Harold while Harold remained in the same general area. She also reminded jurors of threatening text messages from Clary that had been sent earlier the same day to Harold’s nephew, Jonathan Rosenbaum. And Kirkman proffered that Clary’s actions during the video recording demonstrated that he was not in fear of his safety.
Assistant District Attorney Carrie Nitzu followed up DA Kirkman’s comments by reminding jurors of inconsistencies in Clary’s statements to investigators, and consistencies of statements by witnesses against him. Nitzu then replayed the approximately three minute video, with audio, and stated that the 202-pound Harold had no chance with a pipe against the 225-pound Clary with a .50 caliber muzzleloader.
Defendant Clary sat motionless during the recording, while members of the Harold family closed their eyes. Most wept.
During a break following Nitzu’s remarks to the jury, Travis Harold’s father, Terry, remarked to The Times that he had endured listening to his son die nearly twenty times through the course of the two trials. His daughter, Teah, expressed frustration in that many of her brother’s family members, including herself, had not been able to attend the trial [until closing arguments] due to being subpoenaed as witnesses by Clary. Defense counsel had then requested that all witnesses be sequestered, which prohibited them from being in the courtroom during the trial phase. Ms. Harold was sensitive to the perception of a lack of support from her brother’s family, by the jury and others.
After the break, Attorney Campbell then concluded arguments by reminding jurors of a statement to investigators by witness Teddy Bentley, a friend who accompanied Travis Harold to Clary’s home on the day of the shooting, and who reported trying to convince Harold to leave Clary’s property. Bentley stated to investigators that Harold had a reputation for fighting and for violence.
Campbell went on to say that under Stand Your Ground, Clary had no duty to retreat from a threat on his property. Lastly, Campbell stated that Assistant DA Nitzu had been inaccurate in saying that Travis Harold had no chance. He contended, “Travis had a chance. He had the choice not to come to Jason Clary’s home.”
Judge McGee dismissed two alternate jurors at the close of arguments. During instructions to the remaining twelve jurors, Judge McGee informed the panel that they were to weigh the evidence and return a verdict of either First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter, or a verdict of Not Guilty.
North Carolina defines First Degree Murder as the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of another person. It is punishable by death or by life in prison. Second Degree Murder is defined as causing the death of another person by an inherently dangerous act or omission, done in such a reckless and wanton manner as to manifest a mind utterly without regard for human life and social duty and deliberately bent on mischief. It is punishable by 144 months to a lifetime prison sentence. Voluntary Manslaughter is an intentional killing in which an offender acts in the heat of the moment or in response to provocation (not premeditated or planned). Voluntary Manslaughter is punishable by 51 – 64 months in prison.
Jurors in State vs. Jason Daniel Clary deliberated for approximately 30 minutes Monday afternoon, March 11, before breaking for the day. They returned at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and deliberated until just after 3:30 p.m. when they informed the bailiff they had reached a verdict. Upon re-entering the jury box, the foreman of the seven men and five women jury stood and announced to the court that the panel had reached a unanimous decision. He submitted the verdict sheet, which was read aloud by the court clerk – not guilty. Members of both families sobbed at the pronouncement.
Judge McGee thanked jurors for their service and excused them. He then ordered the defendant released from pre-trial bond restrictions, including GPS monitoring of a curfew by Alexander County Pre-Trial Release program.
For the first time since his arrest on April 11, 2016, Jason Clary left with his family, unencumbered.