ORCHARD PARK, New York As the forewoman finished reading the jury's verdict clearing Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney of all charges, McGraw wrapped Chesney in a bear hug, and McGraw's wife Faith Hill wiped away a tear. The crowd in Orchard Park Town Court disobeyed the judge's orders and warmly applauded.
McGraw hugged his lawyer next, and, as his camp continued to celebrate, he stared down Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan. Both had refused to back down in the case, which stemmed from a melee last June during a George Strait Country Music Festival at nearby Ralph Wilson Stadium, just outside Buffalo.
McGraw was acquitted of charges of misdemeanor assault, obstruction of justice, harassment, menacing and resisting arrest. Chesney was cleared of disorderly conduct, and former tour manager Mark Russo was acquitted as well.
Calmly and coolly, McGraw took a laminated copy of a People magazine article in which the sheriff had commented about the star and walked toward Gallivan. He tossed the article onto the lap of the sheriff, who sat in the front row.
Hill, who flew through the night from Hawaii (where she had taken part in ceremonies for the release of the movie "Pearl Harbor," which features her new single) to be on hand, telephoned her children and embraced McGraw. Chesney, seemingly unable to contain his relief, flashed an even bigger smile than the one he had shown while cracking jokes on the witness stand.
The biggest spectator crowd of the trial greeted the stars on their way out of the courtroom with raucous applause. McGraw, overcome with relief, made his first statement outside the courtroom since the trial began.
"We have been waiting 11 months to have our day in trial. We didn't want any plea bargain; we wanted to tell our story and tell the truth," he said. "The justice system works. The people of Buffalo have been wonderful to us we have nothing against them. We'll be back, we'll play music here, and [we] just appreciate everybody's support. Justice prevails."
Said Chesney, "Tim and I told the truth for 11 months, and we sat tight, we kept our lips shut, and we told the truth this week, and the truth prevailed."
Scott Siman, McGraw's manager, said McGraw's lost concert dates due to this case were "gone forever," but that McGraw was determined to clear his name. McGraw took the stand the day before and told the jury that his "character had been assassinated, a lot."
In his closing argument Wednesday morning, McGraw's lawyer, Thomas Eoannou said, "In about a minute, I'm going to ask you to set this circus down. That's the name of Tim McGraw's last album. It was written about this case."
Eoannou singled out Gallivan and said the trial was about protecting the image of the Erie County Sheriff's Department and about making money for the two deputies who claimed they were assaulted by McGraw. Both deputies testified that they had talked with civil attorneys, and one had McGraw and Chesney served with a civil suit on their way into court Monday.
McGraw and Chesney were the real victims, Eoannou said.
"Because you put on a badge and a blue suit does not mean that you can hit people," he said, insisting that McGraw had every right to intervene when the deputies were pulling Chesney off a police horse, because McGraw was preventing Chesney from falling headfirst onto the concrete.
McGraw admitted pushing a deputy, but denied grabbing him by the neck and refusing to let go, as the deputy testified.
In his closing argument, chief prosecutor Lou Hremski said McGraw had tried to charm him, and he asked the jury not to be swayed by McGraw's congenial personality and celebrity. McGraw did "what someone with power does" and stepped in and took control without knowing the circumstances of the situation, Hremski said. Propelled by ego, McGraw "stepped outside his little world," Hremski said. "When you do that, you answer to us."
Justice John M. Curran, who replaced the original judge after he suffered a heart attack during the trial last week, instructed the jury that if McGraw was reasonably justified in pushing a police officer, they must throw out all charges.
That the jury did so disappointed Sheriff Gallivan.
"I will never believe that someone, famous or not, can put their hands on a police officer, push them or wrap their arms around his neck while a police officer is performing their duty," Gallivan said outside the trial, adding that the jury "made the job of every police officer in Western New York much more difficult."
"I think a performer gave a great performance," Gallivan said of McGraw. The sheriff condemned the stars' jovial behavior in court, as well as Chesney's riding a horse onto the "Tonight Show," calling it "an affront to law-abiding citizens and law enforcement."
When asked about McGraw's tossing the People magazine article at him, Gallivan said, "Tim McGraw did throw something at me, which I think is indicative of the type of individual that he is, and I don't think that his behavior in court when he did that was any different than his reaction at Ralph Wilson Stadium on June 3."
McGraw answered no questions after making his statement, saying he "needed to go home to his kids."