Jury finds Modesto teacher guilty of lesser gun charge

10/15/2012 4:37 PM

11/05/2012 9:07 PM

A jury on Monday found a Beyer High School teacher guilty of negligent discharge of a firearm, a felony offense, for shooting a gun during a dispute with his neighbor over a fence line near his Oakdale home three years ago.

The jurors also determined Ralph Bradley Keith was guilty of misdemeanor resisting arrest for failing to comply with Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies when they responded to the shooting Oct. 23, 2009.

The jurors found that Keith was not guilty of felony counts of assault with a firearm, making criminal threats and vandalism. Negligent discharge of a firearm is a less-serious crime in comparison to assault with a firearm.

Authorities said Keith fired two shots at Oakdale chiropractor Theodore Jasper Cummins. The jury's ruling, however, indicates there wasn't enough evidence to prove Keith fired the gun at his neighbor.

Deputy District Attorney Anthony Colacito said Keith faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison. The prosecutor argued in the trial that Keith was acting as a "vigilante" who was angry and took the law into his own hands.

"The defendant engaged in dangerous behavior that cannot be tolerated from any individual from any walk of life," Colacito said after the verdict was announced.

Kirk McAllister, Keith's defense attorney, argued in court that the prosecution failed to prove his client fired the gun at Cummins. McAllister did not return a phone call to comment for this report.

The defendant has told authorities that he fired the gun from 300 yards away into the air after he was threatened by Cummins.

Keith, 55, was free on bail during his trial, but Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira ordered him into custody after the verdict. The defendant will remain at the Stanislaus County Jail as he awaits his Nov. 13 sentencing hearing.

The teacher stood in the courtroom and placed his hands behind his back, so the bailiff could handcuff him. Instead, the bailiff escorted Keith out of the courtroom where he was handcuffed out of the view of his family and friends in the courtroom.

Keith blew a kiss to his family as he was ushered out. About a dozen of his supporters attended the hearing and were upset to see the defendant remanded into custody. His family and friends did not comment for this report.

Prosecutor: Keith could flee state

McAllister asked the judge for Keith to remain free on bail as he awaited sentencing. He argued the defendant has appeared in court as ordered and has no prior criminal record.

Colacito asked the judge to remand Keith, arguing that the defendant has indicated in e-mails that he and his wife plan to move to an Oregon home "once this is all over." The prosecutor was concerned Keith would leave the area to avoid his sentence. McAllister told the judge his client has plans to leave the state to get away from Cummins, not to avoid a sentence.

The jury of eight women and four men began deliberating about 3:45 p.m. Oct. 9. The jurors deliberated the following day before resuming deliberations Monday until they returned with the verdict about 3:30 p.m.

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 shooting occurred after the men argued over the fence.

Cummins, who had been in the courtroom throughout most of the trial, was not there Monday when the verdict was announced.

Keith is an instructor of adaptive physical education for special-education students at Modesto's 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 (209) 578-2394 or rahumada@modbee.com.

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