Jury finds Serghei Comerzan not guilty

Jury deliberations continue in Comerzan trial

ST. CHARLES, Mo. - UPDATE: The superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Colonel Sandra Karsten, released her thoughts on the jury's decision. 

She said, “This has been a very difficult period of time for James' family, friends, and for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. I want to express my thanks to all our employees as well as the law enforcement personnel who have invested countless hours in this investigation, including the Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, and to every citizen who offered their help and support in any way. I am very grateful. The Patrol will continue to support the Bava Family in any way that we can.” 

UPDATE: A St. Charles jury has found Serghei Comerzan not guilty on counts of involuntary manslaughter and felony resisting a lawful stop.

ORIGINAL: A St. Charles jury is now behind closed doors deciding the fate of Serghei Comerzan, 23.

He is accused of trying to outrun Trooper James Bava on his motorcycle in 2015 in Audrain County. Bava lost control of his patrol cruiser and died in a fiery crash trying to catch up with him. Comerzan admitted to investigators that he was driving more than 100 miles an hour.

Assistant Audrain County Prosecutor Scott Fox began closing arguments by breaking down Comerzan's charges of involuntary manslaughter and resisting a lawful stop. 

He said when it comes to involuntary manslaughter, Comerzan's reckless driving caused the death of Trooper Bava.

To be guilty of resisting a lawful stop, the jury must decide that Comerzan reasonably should have known that a law enforcement officer was trying to stop him.

Fox said that all the evidence and witnesses the jury heard from this week proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Comerzan was fleeing from Bava on purpose. He recalled witness testimony that stated they heard Comerzan accelerate his motorcycle and look behind him as he was driving on Route FF.

The state's closing arguments were supplemented by several PowerPoint slides. On one, Fox broke down that Comerzan, who lived in Mexico at the time, used Route FF as his "personal racing track."

"50 mph over the speed limit is not speeding," said Fox. "50 mph over the speed limit is crazy."

He brought back statements from Comerzan when he told investigators "I know how to outrun a cop."

Depending on the speed Comerzan was going and where Bava turned around to start following him, there were roughly between 5 and 13 seconds the two could have been within each other's sights.

After Fox presented his argument, Comerzan's attorney Charlie James spent almost an hour talking with the jury. He pressed the importance of the jury instructions.

Per the instructions, the jury should consider if Comerzan knew his reckless driving would cause a death or that he was aware his conduct practically was certain to cause death. James said that there was no evidence that Comerzan knew Bava would die in pursuit of him. 

"All of us check to see if we're getting chased if we're speeding," he said to jurors. "[Comerzan] wasn't looking to flee."

He told jurors that Comerzan was not a criminal. Instead, he was a "young man who made a mistake."

"His mistake did not cause this death," said James.

James reiterated that witness testimony and evidence presented had changed over the course of the two year investigation and court proceedings. He said investigators "wanted to make a case against this boy at the outset."

"I don't have the confidence they played square in this case," said James.

Fox returned for another 20 minutes after James to respond to his closing arguments. He said people who pass a law enforcement officer slow down and they do not speed up like Comerzan apparently did. He said the highway patrol is trying to decrease the risk and save lives.

"[Comerzan] risked everybody who lived along that road," said Fox. "In the end, it ended up costing James Bava his life."

Because much of the evidence, like video from Bava's patrol car, was burned up in the crash, Fox said that every witness in this case was crucial. 

"James [Bava] is dead," said Fox. "I would give anything for James to be able to take the stand and tell us, in a felony resisting a lawful stop case, what he saw."

This is the second time Comerzan is facing a jury. Last May, his trial ended in a hung jury when they couldn't agree on a verdict. This time, Comerzan's charge of second degree murder has been downgraded to involuntary manslaughter. 

No word on when the jury could return.

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