COLUMBIA, TN – Mr. James Bennett, Editor, The Daily Herald Newspaper of Columbia, Tennessee was present in the Maury County, Tennessee Courtroom yesterday.
Here is The Daily Herald‘s report:
By JAMES BENNETT
A champion Tennessee Walking Horse trainer was found guilty of assault Tuesday by a Maury County Circuit Court jury for driving his truck in the direction of a protester last year.
Jamie Lawrence, 42, of Vinemont, Ala., was facing charges of felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The 12-person jury deliberated for an hour before deciding on the lesser misdemeanor charge. Judge Robert L. Jones presided.
“I saw it coming right at me,” Teresa Bippen, 58, testified, saying Lawrence gunned his truck’s engine and swerved toward her as she protested outside the Spring Jubilee Walking Horse event at Maury County Park on May 30.
Bippen and others were demonstrating against the illegal practice of soring against horses and trying to discourage attendance. Soring is the intentional infliction of pain to horses’ feet and legs to produce an exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick” to impress judges.
A Maury County Sheriff’s deputy testified he asked Lawrence why he would turn his truck toward Bippen.
“I asked him, ‘What in the world did you do that for,” Lt. Andy Jackson testified. “His response was, ‘I shouldn’t have.’ “
Maury County Prosecutor Gary Howell alleged Lawrence was upset by protesters. Tara Taylor, who was standing 10 feet from Bippen, said she and Lawrence argued about the protest as he drove by. Taylor and Bippen were chanting, “Big Lick, big lie, and soring is animal abuse.”
Columbia Police Sgt. Orlando Cox, who was watching the protest from the grassy field near the entrance, said he jumped out of his car and ran toward Lawrence’s truck when he saw it turn toward Bippen.
“He said, ‘Ya’ll don’t know the problems these people cause us,’ ” Cox testified, recalling Lawrence’s comments about protesters.
Lawrence, testifying in his own behalf after being called by his Columbia attorney, John Colley, denied making both statements.
“I was not trying to run over Ms. Bippen,” Lawrence said. “I did not say those two things. I would never say anything like that.”
Lawrence said he was following instructions from Jackson on driving into the park. The Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration champion rider said he had attended horse shows “seven or eight times” in Maury County. The traffic pattern into the park was slightly different May 30, he said.
“I was watching Lt. Jackson, following his instructions to move over to the left,” Lawrence said. “I realized I was getting to close to Ms. Bippen and turned to the right. I was trying not to hit Ms. Bippen.”
Lawrence’s wife, Connie, testified she was in the front seat of their truck with her father and daughter. She said her husband did not argue with the protesters and saw nothing out of the ordinary.
“I was reading a book,” she testified.
Jones said he was inclined to sentence Lawrence, a first-time offender, to diversion, with the possibility of expunging his record after one year. The judge told Howell and Colley he would announce the sentence March 4.