ORCHARD PARK, New York Moments after a sheriff's deputy testified that Tim McGraw had attacked his partner and tried to attack him as well, the country superstar strode confidently out of the courtroom Wednesday.
With his wife Faith Hill beside him, McGraw merrily greeted a modest gathering of fans, who sat through the second day of testimony in Orchard Park Town Court, a Buffalo suburb.
Sgt. Mark Rokikta of the Erie County Sheriff's Department testified that singer Kenny Chesney refused to get off a police horse in a backstage incident during the George Strait Country Music Festival on June 3, 2000, at Ralph Wilson Stadium, near Buffalo. As Rokikta and his partner, Detective Arthur Litzinger, tried to pull Chesney off the horse, McGraw attacked Litzinger, Rokikta said.
"All this happened in a split second," the detective testified. "My attention was diverted from the horse to my partner."
After the alleged attack, Rokikta ran at McGraw and tried to hoist him onto a squad car, but ended up on the hood of the car himself, he said.
"I couldn't move him, so I screamed, "You attacked my partner! You attacked my partner!" Rokikta testified.
While McGraw and Litzinger continued to struggle, Rokikta tried and failed again to pull McGraw off his partner, and after Litzinger escaped, McGraw came after Rokikta with a clenched fist, the sergeant testified.
"He was coming at me fast," said Rokikta, who described McGraw, a former collegiate athlete, as "solid muscle."
Rokikta readied his baton and struck McGraw's left thigh just as Litzinger subdued McGraw from behind. Rokikta later found out he had struck both McGraw and Litzinger, he said.
Defense lawyers emphasized inconsistencies in testimony of the prosecution's witnesses, which so far include the two deputies and Sharlene Turner, daughter of Capt. James Coyle of the Sheriff's Mounted Division, who owns Chico, the horse in question. Turner was tending to the horse when she allowed Chesney to mount it.
McGraw is charged with misdemeanor assault, resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration and menacing. If convicted by the six-person jury, he faces up to a year in jail. Chesney is charged with the lesser complaint of disorderly conduct and will face a verdict by judge after McGraw's jury trial.
McGraw's attorney, Thomas Eoannou, said after the court adjourned for the day that his client was innocent.
"He's maintained all along that he's done nothing wrong, that he came to the aid of a friend," Eoannou said. "What's he supposed to do? Sit there and let his friend's neck get broken?"
Eoannou and other defense lawyers say Turner gave Chesney permission to not only mount but also ride the horse. The defense aggressively attacked the credibility of Turner, who court proceedings revealed recently pled guilty to felony charges of scheming to defraud and faces sentencing after this trial ends.
In testimony, Turner admitted to stealing personal information to obtain credit cards in others' names from June 1999 to August 2000. She also pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in September.
Turner claimed in testimony that she was then mentally ill and now takes anti-depressants and sees a psychiatrist weekly. She repeatedly replied, "I do not recall" when asked specific questions about her crimes. However, she said she remembered the entire incident at the Strait festival, which she described as "mad chaos," "a frenzy" and "a three-ring circus."
Turner broke the tension in the courtroom when she said she did not recognize Chesney when he said hello to her as he rode by on a golf cart.
"I'm sorry, I'm not a fan of Mr. Chesney's," she said as the courtroom burst into laughter and the defense playfully objected.
But the point became a serious one when defense lawyers grilled Turner, insinuating that she had seen McGraw at a similar festival in West Virginia five years ago and was an awestruck fan trying to schmooze with the stars. She denied trying to interact with the stars and said she owned none of their albums, only an old one of Hill's, and she said she went to the West Virginia festival because friends invited her.
Before seeing Chesney, McGraw had driven by on a golf cart and greeted her, Turner testified. Turner did not realize who McGraw was until after he drove by, she said, but the defense maintained that she initiated conversation with both McGraw and Chesney.
"I'm not a fan of country singers or anyone on TV or anyone like that," she said, saying she was at the stadium only to visit her father and the horse, which he owns.
Turner testified that she was talking intently to a woman about horses when Chesney said hello. After complimenting the horse, Chesney asked to mount it, and Turner asked if he had experience with horses. When he said he did, Turner said, she gave him permission.
Chesney then rode away on the horse, and Turner ran and called out after him, she said. Litzinger and Rokikta then "forcibly removed" Chesney from the horse, which, to someone unfamiliar with how to dismount a horse, could have appeared "violent" and "aggressive," Turner said.
When arguing over her use of the word "violent," Turner told Eoannou, "I don't know, you've put me through hell and back again."
"You should see what you've done to my client," Eoannou said.
The day opened with final testimony from Litzinger, who told the jury that McGraw grabbed his neck from behind as he tried to pull Chesney off the horse. Defense lawyers assailed Litzinger's credibility because he admitted consulting a civil attorney about filing a lawsuit against McGraw. Rokikta also said he has spoken to a civil attorney.
Testimony will resume Thursday morning.