ORCHARD PARK, New York Country star Tim McGraw's assault trial took a strange turn Thursday when the judge hearing their case suffered a heart attack, forcing the court to adjourn before the day's proceedings got underway.
Justice Edmund S. Brown had difficulty breathing and was rushed to Buffalo's Mercy Hospital around 9:45 a.m. As of Thursday afternoon (May 17), Brown was in critical condition, a hospital spokesperson said.
If doctors say Brown cannot continue to preside over the case, it will end in a mistrial because judges cannot be replaced once a trial begins. Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark that if need be, he would push for a retrial as soon as possible.
An extended delay would "put a huge strain" on the defendants, Kenny Chesney's lawyer, Leonard E. Krawczyk, said, since they are from out of town and have careers to tend to. The two are accused of tangling with a pair of sheriff's deputies who were trying to get Chesney to dismount a horse he was riding at the George Strait Music Festival in June.
Lawyers from both sides said their primary concern is Brown's health. "Our thoughts and prayers our with his honor," said Michael J. McHale, assistant district attorney.
Paramedics pushed Brown on a stretcher past dozens of fans who had come to see Chesney, McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill.
An extended delay or retrial could also cause one of the prosecution's key witnesses to juggle her court dates. Sharlene Turner, who was tending to the horse Chesney mounted, faces sentencing Wednesday for a felony conviction of scheming to defraud. Turner has pled guilty to stealing personal information to obtain credit cards. Her sentencing had already been rescheduled until after the McGraw/Chesney trial.
McGraw is charged with misdemeanor assault, resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration and menacing. Chesney, who maintains Turner gave him permission to not only mount but also ride the horse, is charged with disorderly conduct. Mark Russo, a former manager, is charged with misdemeanor obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
Turner testified on Wednesday that she did not give Chesney permission to ride the horse, only to mount it. Erie County Sheriff's Deputies Arthur Litzinger and Mark Rokikta testified that Chesney refused orders to dismount. The deputies claim McGraw attacked Litzinger when he was pulling Chesney down off the horse (see "Deputy Describes Tim McGraw's Alleged Attack As Trial Continues").
If convicted, McGraw could spend up to a year in jail. He was originally charged with felony assault, punishable by up to seven years in jail; the charge was later reduced.