A 24-year-old Ypsilanti Township man is free following a one-day trial in the 14B District Court. Robert Pardikes had been charged with domestic violence after a former roommate told police Pardikes threatened him with a knife and later poured a pitcher of water over his head. The charge carried a maximum sentence of one year in jail.
During the trial, both Pardikes and the alleged victim, Donald Gray, testified that the two argued over a set of house keys. Gray pushed Pardikes against a wall before trying to wrestle the keys out of Pardikes’ hand. Gray alleged that Pardike then threatened him with a butcher knife. Pardikes denied the allegation. Both men testified that after the fight was over, Gray refused to leave the house. At that point, Pardikes poured a pitcher of room-temperature water over Gray’s head. Gray then dialed 911.
Testifying for the prosecution, Washtenaw County Deputy Brian Yeager told jurors he believed Gray’s story because he found a knife matching Gray’s description in the kitchen. On cross-examination, Deputy Yeager admitted that the knife had been found where it was stored: in a knife block in the kitchen, along with several other knives.
Pardikes’ attorney, Steven Shelton of Shelton Legal Services in Fenton, was incredulous. “You found a kitchen knife, in the kitchen, in the knife rack . . . and you found this suspicious?” he asked.
Other witnesses testified that Gray had a history of exaggeration and attention-seeking. Testimony also revealed that Gray had previously made nearly identical claims about being held at knifepoint by another roommate.
During closing arguments, Shelton told jurors that as the initial aggressor, Gray should have been arrested, not Pardikes. Unfortunately, he said, police usually take the side of the first person to call 911. “The rule is, ‘the first to phone stays at home’,” he said. “By the time the police arrive, they have already decided what happened. That’s what happened in this case.”
Shelton also told jurors the prosecution’s argument—that as a technical matter, Pardikes may have violated the domestic violence statute by pouring water over Gray’s head—was a purely academic argument. He pointed out to the jury that while he, the prosecutor, and the judge were all lawyers, the jury was the “conscience of the community.”
”We spend all day looking at statutes and regulations and caselaw and pondering whether we can convict someone of something,” he said. “We forget to ask if we should. And that’s your job.”
The jury deliberated for less than ten minutes before delivering a verdict of “not guilty”.
Shelton called the case a waste of taxpayer time and money. “Elected prosecutors create these policies that once certain charges are filed, they won’t dismiss them, no matter what,” he said. “They do it with domestic violence cases, drunk driving cases, sex crimes cases, and who knows what else. These policies look great to the voters, but in reality they end up wasting a lot of those same voters’ tax dollars when prosecutors are stuck pursuing cases that have no merit and never should have been brought in the first place.”
The case also pointed out flaws in Michigan’s domestic violence statute, he said. “Under this statute, if you get into an altercation with anyone who has ever been a roommate, who you have ever dated, or who you have ever been married to, you can be charged with a serious crime—including a felony, under some circumstances—no matter how much time has passed since the relationship ended,” he said. “And often, it’s something ridiculous, like pouring water over someone’s head, that causes the case to be started. This law really needs to be reviewed and some changes made to avoid the absurd, disproportionate results it often creates.”
Steven Shelton is an attorney in private practice in Fenton, Michigan. Initial consultations are always free. To schedule an appointment, contact attorney Steven Shelton on-line or by telephone at 810-750-1420.