A Juneau man accused of shooting his brother-in-law’s friend in the face in December was found not guilty Wednesday in Juneau Superior Court.
After 1 1/2 weeks of testimony and arguments, the jury only deliberated for about an hour and a half before clearing Kenneth E. Nalan of the charge.
“And that was with lunch included,” one of the 12 jurors quipped while leaving the courthouse.
Another juror told reporters a lack of “substantial evidence” was the reason he couldn’t send Nalan to prison.
The 36-year-old construction worker and carpenter was charged with one count of first-degree assault in connection with the Dec. 20 shooting. The victim, John D. Duran, 33, survived, but required facial reconstructive surgery.
Prosecutors argued Nalan recklessly shot Duran, while Nalan’s attorney Eric Hedland claimed it was in self-defense.
When the verdict was read in court, Nalan and his supporters erupted in tears and sobs.
“Thank God,” was the only thing Nalan told reporters as he hugged his two daughters and left the courthouse with his wife, Angela.
Duran was not in the courtroom when the verdict was handed down and was not immediately available for comment.
If he had been convicted, Nalan could have served up to 20 years in prison.
Duran was shot at Nalan’s house on Glacierwood Drive after a night of drinking with Nalan and Nalan’s brother-in-law.
Testimony as to what happened that night differed. Nalan took the stand earlier this week to tell his side of the story. He said Duran grabbed Nalan’s .357-caliber revolver from his bedroom closet and came at him. Nalan said there was a brief struggle for the gun when Duran fell forward, the gun came loose and Nalan pulled the trigger.
In the end, the seven women and five men on the jury could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Nalan did not shoot Duran in self defense.
Before the jury broke to deliberate at 11:40 a.m., District Attorney David Brower in closing arguments asked the jury to remember it was Nalan on trial, not Duran. The defense had portrayed Duran as a violent person and an aggressor.
In light of the differing testimonies, Brower also asked the jury to consider who had motive to lie.
“(Nalan) was given the opportunity over and over to talk about what happened,” Brower said, referring to a police interview an hour after the shooting, “and he did not mention what he told you in court this week.”
Brower added the testimony doesn’t add up, and, “If everybody is telling the truth, then there’s a problem.”
Duran had told a different story when he was on the stand. He said the last thing he remembered was playing the guitar on Nalan’s bed and seeing the bedroom door open. That scenario infers the bullet came from the hallway, which is contradictory with police testimony.
But Hedland told the jury during an hour-long closing argument the state’s case was weak, and in fact, he couldn’t even figure out what it was.
“I do not — and I don’t mean this disparagingly — I do not understand the state’s theory. I don’t understand it,” Hedland said.
Hedland wondered out loud if Brower was arguing Nalan’s fear was unreasonable, or if Nalan was being reckless and a round was fired off accidently, or if Nalan shot Duran because he just wanted to.
“The state at one point said if you see somebody come out with a gun in your house in your room with the hammer cocked, it’s reckless to go grab that gun,” Hedland added. “That should be categorically dismissed. That’s ridiculous. What are you going to do? Trust him?”
As for the disputed police interview, Hedland said his client conceded making conflicting statements and omitting facts immediately after the incident. When Nalan testified, he admitted he doesn’t know why he made some of those statements, but that it was a chaotic moment when he feared Duran was dead. Nalan was also visibly drunk during the interview.
“Mr. Brower said, ‘Well, why didn’t you tell police’ — I mean, what is the context of this? He’s not giving a speech after winning an election or something,” Hedland told the jury. “This is in the context of being at a police station wondering if this guy’s dead. If you’re going to convict somebody, please don’t convict them because they’re inarticulate.”
Hedland once more pointed to a lack of physical, scientific or forensic evidence. Just one example of that, he said, was when responding police officers compromised the crime scene as he took the gun from Nalan’s table and secured it in his belt before it was placed in an evidence bag.
Hedland also questioned whether Duran was lying when he took the stand and during his subsequent police interviews because Duran didn’t know if he was a suspect himself.
Hedland wrapped up his argument by asking jurors what they would do in a similar situation.
“What do you do?” Hedland asked. “According to Mr. Brower, you just stand there and ask him not to shoot you.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.