A prosecutor on Tuesday told a jury that a Beyer High School teacher disputing a fence line near his Oakdale home fired a gun at his neighbor, who hid behind a Dumpster, fearing for his life as he spoke to a 911 operator.
The teacher, Ralph Bradley Keith, is on trial accused of firing two shots at Oakdale chiropractor Theodore Jasper Cummins. The shooting is claimed to have occurred Oct. 23, 2009, after the men argued over the fence.
"It's a vigilante who's angry, and angry over his fence," Deputy District Attorney Anthony Colacito said in court about Keith.
Kirk McAllister, Keith's defense attorney, told the jurors his client didn't shoot at Cummins and that the prosecution failed to prove it. "The evidence here shows Mr. Keith's innocence," McAllister said.
The attorneys presented their closing arguments Tuesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
A jury of eight women and four men began deliberating about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday. The jurors had not reached a verdict and were expected to continue deliberating today.
Keith, 55, has been charged with felony counts of assault with a firearm, negligent discharge of a firearm, making criminal threats and vandalism, along with a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
The defendant and his family had been at odds with Cummins, 44, after Cummins bought nearly four acres of vacant land in 2008 next to the Keiths' home on Orange Blossom Road along the Stanislaus River.
The Keiths have said Cummins harassed and intimidated them after they reported him to authorities for filling in a wetland on his property without a permit. Prosecutors say the shooting was the result of a dispute over the fence bordering the two properties.
As part of his closing argument, Colacito played an excerpt from a 25-minute 911 call from Cummins shortly after shots were claimed to have been fired. The prosecutor told the jurors that Cummins' fear is evident in the call. "That's the sounds of a man who just got shot at twice and thinks he's going to die," Colacito argued.
Cummins was hiding behind a Dumpster, telling the 911 operator that Keith had shot at him, saying: "He barely missed me. The bullet hit right by me."
McAllister told the jury that Cummins' 911 call for help was an elaborate lie he created to achieve his ultimate goal get the Keith family out of the area. "He wants Keith out of there," McAllister argued. "Keith has been a pain in the butt."
The prosecutor focused his argument on the 911 calls made after the claimed shooting.
Colacito played for the jurors a call from a 911 operator to Keith's home after Cummins' call to 911. The operator was trying to gather information for Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies responding to Cummins' call.
Colacito told the jury that Keith answered the phone and never asked for help or said he was attacked, as he did in his testimony. Keith told the operator he was upset over the fence-line issue and that sheriff's officials had done nothing to resolve the dispute. "There's no fear in that man's voice, just anger," Colacito argued.
Keith told the operator that Cummins threatened to kill him with a pipe and that he fired his gun from 300 yards away at a cat and up in the air. During the call, the teacher denied shooting at his neighbor. "I'm not armed; I do have a gun," Keith can be heard telling the 911 operator.
The defense attorney asked the jurors to discredit Cummins' court testimony because he initially testified he didn't see who was shooting at him. But Cummins later testified that after he heard the 911 call, he remembered that he saw Keith holding what appeared to be a rifle.
"That's the person you have to rely on if you accept the DA's case," McAllister said, challenging Cummins' credibility.
Colacito said the defense attorney was trying to distract the jury with the change in Cummins' testimony. He said there is no debate that Keith fired a gun that day.
"The issue is which direction (the gun) was fired," Colacito argued.
Keith is an instructor of adaptive physical education for special education students at Beyer High. He's been a teacher for more than 25 years, and Modesto City Schools placed him on paid administrative leave Nov. 17, 2009, until his criminal case is resolved.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.