Last Friday morning, a jury found Serghei Comerzan not guilty on charges for resisting a lawful stop and involuntary manslaughter in the first degree. This is after the second degree murder charge was downgraded to involuntary manslaughter.
Audrain County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Scott Fox and Special Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Watson, from the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, tried the case February 23-March 2 at the St. Charles County Courthouse, where it was presided over by 11th Circuit Judge Ted House.
“Our sympathy is with the Bava family and with members of our law enforcement community in Audrain County who are hurting and continue to hurt after this tragic loss,” Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger said in a release after last year’s mistrial.
“This has been a very difficult period of time for James’ family, friends, and for the Missouri State Highway Patrol,” said Colonel Sandra K. Karsten, Superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol in a released public statement. “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.”
Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger was disappointed in the result of the jury trial acquitting Comerzan.
“Although Mr. Comerzan was acquitted of these charges, the Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office took this case to trial to allow a full, fair, and as complete as possible public trial,” Shellabarger said. “Showing the facts, evidence, and testimony, which the state believed was sufficient to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, was necessary and conducted in an ethical, thorough, and efficient manner; that’s what a trial is. Our office aggressively prosecutes criminals when charges are supported by credible and admissible evidence and in the interest of justice under the law and absent of politics. Our office stands behind our prosecution, and believe the evidence supported a finding of guilty, but we respect the difficult decision this jury made. APA Scott Fox and Special APA Stephanie Watson and our team were well prepared and put their highest professional effort into this case. Audrain County should be proud of their efforts, as I am.”
“We still believe in the case, we will keep trying cases like this in the future,” APA Fox added. “We grew to love James [Bava] as a prosecuting team. We did our absolute best to honor him and we’re disappointed in the verdict and we’re sorry we couldn’t deliver it for him.”
Shellabarger went on to say that the jury’s verdict doesn’t end the pain for the Bava family.
He also took time to commend the jury for their efforts.
“Although we are disappointed that the jury did not convict Mr. Comerzan, the jury should be commended for their focus, dedication and thorough commitment to fully considering the law as applied to the facts of this case,” Shellabarger noted. “Beyond a reasonable doubt is a high standard, and for good reason. The jury had a difficult job to do, took it seriously and then made its decision; that’s what we always ask them to do.”
Last May, a mistrial was declared in the jury trial after the jury was deadlocked.
Comerzan had been charged with second degree murder and felony resisting arrest for the death of the late Missouri State Highway Patrol Troopler James Bava on August 28, 2015.
Trooper Bava was killed when his patrol car crashed on Route FF in Audrain County during his pursuit of Comerzan’s motorcycle. Comerzan was reportedly traveling 105 m.p.h.
A “Supporters for Serghei” rally was held last June in Mexico.
“(I am) trying to show support for Serghei, his family, and trying to get the public to put a little pressure on Shellabarger to make him understand that he overturns his case,” said Ron Toalson, a friend of the family who was at the protest during that rally. “They don’t have the proof. Wasting taxpayer money putting Serghei’s family through pretty much hell. The cost is enormous for the state and his family…You had your trial. They put on their best case. I’m sorry a trooper lost his life but they couldn’t prove it so why go through it again. I think Shellabarger needs to take a hard look at it and decide is it in the public’s interest to do this.”