BUCYRUS — Former Galion firefighter Brian Brown, 58, got his day in court last week. Actually, he got two.
A jury trial was held at the Crawford County Common Pleas Court on Feb. 6 and 7 for the State of Ohio vs. Brian Brown. The defendant was charged with attempted murder (a first degree felony) and felonious assault with a firearm specification (a second degree felony).
On May 2, 2013, Brown allegedly shot his girlfriend, 51-year-old Shelly Fry, inside his home on South Union Street, just before 8:00 p.m. He then left the scene, spurring a citywide manhunt. Brown drove to a home in Morrow County before coming back to Galion, and after his car ran out of gas on McClure Street, several citizens called in to report him walking through their yards. Police found him near the Libby Lane Apartments at 9:40 p.m.; when Brown did not cooperate with their orders he was tased several times before falling face first onto the asphalt. He was indicted on May 13 and has been awaiting trial at the Crawford County Jail since that time.
Shelly Fry suffered serious injuries but survived the incident. She was shot twice, once above her left breast and once in her wrist, but she had six wounds altogether due to the bullet fragmentation. In addition her spleen was removed, her left forearm was broken and there was damage to her liver, a kidney and her intestinal area. In her testimony on Thursday, Fry could recall very little about what happened the night of May 2.
On Thursday the jury also heard testimony from Detective Eric Bohach (lead investigator) and Officer Ryan Novick, both of the Galion Police Department; Galion Fire EMT Charles Altstadt and Agent Ed Staley of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
When Brown took the stand on Friday dressed in a grayish-brown suit, he was calm and soft-spoken, at times speaking in only a whispered mumble. He explained he met Fry through a mutual friend and they began dating. She moved in with him five years ago because she needed a place to stay. Brown said he was in love with her and believed she was in love with him.
Attorney Shane Leuthold, who represented Brown in the case, asked his client to walk the jury through the day of May 2. Brown said he and Fry went shopping in Mansfield and bought food because they were planning on a cookout that evening. Later that day, they went to several bars: Trackside 30, Amvets, American Legion and the VFW. The two drank mostly beer, but at the Legion Fry ordered mixed drinks.
The VFW was the couple’s final stop. According to Brown, everything was fine until he told her he wanted to go home. Fry began yelling at him, and he was upset she was drinking so much, but not mad. She drank one or two more and they went home. When they arrived at the house, she continued yelling at him, saying things like “I didn’t like you much when I met you and I don’t like you much more now,” and “I was just using you.”
Leuthold asked the defendant to describe his mental state at that time. Brown said he was very depressed, which he struggled with often. In that moment, he was suicidal. “I just didn’t want to hear it anymore,” he stated.
Brown owns about 20 guns. He decided to get one of them and put it to his head. He selected a 9mm Taurus and walked out the back door, saying he wanted to shoot himself out there. Ultimately he decided to walk back into the kitchen and asked Fry, who was in the adjacent living room, to “let me kill myself.”
He pointed the gun at his right temple, at which point she ran into the kitchen and began grabbing for the gun. He did not recall their struggle, saying it all happened very fast. According to Brown, Fry held onto the barrel of the gun and a “tug of war” for the weapon ensued. Brown stands 6-8 inches taller than Fry, which made the angle of the bullet trajectory a downward 24 degrees. He heard two pops and then she stumbled backward, sat down on the floor and said “It hurts.”
When Brown realized she had been shot, he hugged her and then went outside to get help. His ex-wife, Anna Brown, lives next door. He saw her standing on her porch, so he approached her and said Fry had been shot.
Anna Brown also testified that day. She confirmed that Brown approached her and there was blood on his face and shirt, and he had a gun in his hand. She also confirmed he told her about the shooting, but noted he did not say that he shot Fry or that it was intentional. He then asked to go inside to tell his daughter and granddaughter goodbye. She let Brown inside, then went over to his house. Fry stumbled onto the back porch/ramp area, and the witness stayed with her.
In the cross-examination, Leuthold asked Anna Brown about the defendant’s history with depression. “This was not the first time Brian Brown said he was going to take his own life, was it?” he asked.
Anna Brown said while they were still married, there was an incident where she found him on the couch holding a gun to his chin. She said she smacked it away and yelled at him. Brown’s mental state was one of the reasons for their divorce.
Bethany Brown, Brian Brown’s daughter, also testified. She confirmed Brown came inside and gave her and her 3-year-old daughter a kiss, then left. He did not tell her what happened, but she did overhear him talking to her mom. According to her, Brown said, “I snapped, she got shot. She didn’t love me, she was using me.” She agreed with Leuthold that Brown did not look angry, but rather “brokenhearted.”
She and Brown then joined her mother at the crime scene. Bethany called 9-1-1, which is when Brown left the scene. She also got a towel for Fry in order to slow the bleeding.
In his testimony, Brown said when he walked back to his house and saw his girlfriend laying on the ramp, he did not know what to do and wanted to leave. He got into his car and drove to another property he owns about 10 miles south of Galion. He said he went there “to be alone,” but realized he did not have his cellphone with him. That was when he decided to drive to the home of his friend, Lisa Zeisler.
Zeisler lives on County Road 46 in Morrow County. She testified that she has known Brown for 10 years and they were close friends. On the afternoon of May 2, she was going into Trackside 30 where she works, to pick up her paycheck. Brown and Fry walked in as she was leaving, and she spoke to them briefly. She saw them again later at another bar she works at and spoke to Fry, who said she was “having a good day” because her son was going to rehab.
At 8:30 p.m., Zeisler’s boss called to tell her about the shooting. Zeisler’s daughter then texted her: “What’s going on with Brian?” Minutes later her daughter called, but it was Brown on the phone. Zeisler said he did not sound angry or enraged. He told her: “I just called to tell you I love you. I always have and I always will.”
Zeisler then told him to leave her house because she was upset he was there, especially since she knew Fry had been shot. After the conversation, Zeisler said she called 9-1-1, then went home to make sure her daughter and granddaughter were okay.
Zeisler’s daughter, Lindsey Hartline, testified about what happened at the house. She was at home when Brown arrived. She let him in because he asked to wash up, noting that he was “calm but a little nervous.” According to Hartline, Brown had blood on his shirt, his pants (right thigh) and on his elbow. Once inside, he went into the bathroom for a few moments, then sat down and “poured his heart out” to her. He told her he was in a fight with his girlfriend and she pushed him to his limit. They were fighting over money issues and because she slept around. He repeatedly said “you can only be pushed so far.” As he was leaving the house, Brown turned to her and said “Yes I shot her.”
Leuthold asked Hartline if Brown seemed like a man who was brokenhearted. “In a way, yes,” Hartline responded. She also said she did not feel that her personal safety, or her daughter’s safety, was at risk.
From there, Brown could not recall where he went or his car running out of gas. He also said he had no memory of the police tasing him or his conversation with Detective Bohach while he was at Galion Hospital. When Brown awoke at Grant Hospital in Columbus, he said he thought he had been in a car accident. He was unclear on what happened until police officers told him Fry had been shot.
Leuthold then submitted Brown’s medical records as an exhibit, which he pointed out show that his client suffered from a concussion as a result of his fall after being tased. He also had to have surgery to install a metal plate in his right cheek. He asked Brown if he wanted to kill Fry.
“No. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt her. I would hurt myself before her,” Brown responded. He also admitted it was not a good idea to put a gun to his head while he was intoxicated, and that he should have let go of the gun when she tried to take it away.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Hoovler cross examined him, pointing out that his testimony was inconsistent with the evidence and statements he made to the witnesses on the night of the shooting. Hoovler was also critical of Brown for not giving any medical help to Fry despite being a firefighter for 30 years. Brown said he was in shock at the time, and noted he was not trained as a paramedic. Hoovler argued that the claim of suicide was brought up for the first time that day and Brown never mentioned Fry saved his life to his ex-wife, Lindsay Hartline or Detective Bohach. “You were fed up with Shelly and intended to shoot her,” he concluded.
Leuthold then argued that there were 8 or 9 bullets left in the gun, so if Brown had wanted to kill her he could have fired more rounds.
In the closing arguments, Prosecuting Attorney Matt Crall stated, “We do know one thing: Brown pulled the trigger. What’s not at issue is on May 2, 2013, Brown and Fry drank too much. He went next door, then left. He told Lindsay Hartline what he did. Brown would have you believe he is the victim, but the real victim is Shelly Fry; her life will never be the same.”
Crall argued that the evidence is consistent with Brown intentionally shooting Fry, and his words and actions after the shooting prove his guilt. Four witnesses heard Brown’s words immediately following the shooting, and he never told them of his original intent to shoot himself.
Shane Leuthold made no dispute that his client pulled the trigger, but he said Brown accidentally shot Fry and holds himself responsible. “But did the state present any evidence to suggest Brown became homicidal and intended to murder the woman he loved?” he asked the jury.
Leuthold argued the state’s case was built on guess work because no one knows how the shooting actually occurred. He noted it was a quick struggle and the doctors could not tell which of Fry’s wounds were the entrance and exit wounds. He said they were both drunk, and Fry was three times the legal limit. That fact, combined with Brown’s fragile state of mind, pushed him over the edge to harm himself. When Brown was interviewed by police, the attorney noted he had sustained life threatening injuries and was not in a condition to recollect what happened or give an official statement.
The jury deliberated for just over three hours that afternoon. It found Brown not guilty of the attempted murder charge, and guilty of felonious assault in the second degree.
“We’re very pleased [Brown] is being held accountable,” Crall stated after the verdict. He explained there is a potential for a maximum sentence of 11 years (8 years for felonious assault, in addition to three years for the firearm specification).
Judge Russell Wiseman said the sentencing hearing will be held at a later date. He released Brown back into the custody of Sheriff’s deputies and continued his bond until sentencing.