Although jurors agreed that "no one should carry a gun in a car," they acquitted Simeon Thomas Berkley, 45, Friday of all charges in a Feb. 6 shooting after a near-crash on Interstate 8.
The El Cajon man sighed with relief after the jury found him not guilty of attempted murder, attempted manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. Had he been convicted of premeditated attempted murder, Berkley could have received a life sentence.
Berkley had testified that he pointed a gun in the direction of the victim, Richard Durkin, 31, of Santee, minutes after their cars nearly collided on I-8. Durkin was shot in the back and now is partly paralyzed.
San Diego Superior Court jurors told reporters that they believed Berkley had thought his life was in danger when Durkin got out of his car and approached Berkley, who was seated in his car on Magnolia Avenue in El Cajon moments after the near-collision.
Judge Herbert Exarhos ordered Berkley, who had been in County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail since he surrendered Feb. 7, to be freed immediately.
Berkley thanked jurors repeatedly, but a few had some advice for him.
"You keep that gun out of your car," an unidentified male juror told him. "We didn't feel that what you did was right at all, but we had to follow the law."
Immediately after the verdicts were read, jury foreman Marcel Bingham told the judge "the jury would like to make a statement."
Obviously surprised, the judge at first was reluctant, but then he allowed the jurors to speak.
Bingham said the jury was not comfortable with the conclusion in the case but felt it had to follow the law.
Another juror said: "We feel that no one should carry a gun in a car."
Berkley's truck had been seized after the shooting, but the judge ordered it returned to him. If his gun, which was also seized, is returned, he will sell it, Berkley said.