Jurors begin deliberating in retrial of man accused in the death of a state trooper

Serghei Comerzan waived his right to testify at his retrial February 28, 2018 (Ashley Zavala/KRCG)

Jurors began deliberating Thursday in the state's retrial of Serghei Comerzan.

Judge Ted House told jurors they're tasked with deciding whether to convict the 23-year-old of first degree involuntary manslaughter and resisting a lawful stop in the death of Trooper James Bava.

Prosecutors have said Comerzan knew, or reasonably had to know Bava was trying to pull him over on a rural road in Audrain County on August 28, 2015. Comerzan admitted to investigators he had been riding his motorcycle 100 mph on Route FF, the same road where Bava crashed his patrol vehicle and died.

Each side was given 45 minutes to close their arguments in front of jurors Thursday morning.

Prosecutor Scott Fox reiterated to jurors, as a state trooper, it was Bava's duty to stop Comerzan, a motorcyclist who was speeding and putting others in danger. He pointed to the testimony provided by several civilian witnesses who either saw the aftermath of the crash, the motorcyclist, and Bava.

Fox noted Comerzan could have taken other faster, safer routes to work that morning. "Instead, he chose to use the route as his own personal racetrack," Fox said.

Fox reminded jurors of the evidence in Comerzan's recorded interrogation video in which he told investigators he knew he could outrun a cop. He also pointed to Comerzan's phone activity. He told jurors, Comerzan had received a Snapchat of a news article on the incident. Comerzan, in a text message that same day to another friend, he said he had heard about the crash, and texted "Crazy, why was he going that fast to where he crashed?" Fox reminded jury of the testimony from Comerzan's former friend, in which he said the news article did not mention the speed of those involved.

"The only person who knew how fast he was going was him," Fox said.

"It's a shame that it happened the way it happened," Comerzan's lawyer, Charlie James, said in closing arguments.

James told jurors prosecutors kept changing their evidence, and he said there are no facts in the case.

"It was very clear, they [the highway patrol] didn't want to take any responsibility for this," James said of Bava's death.

James reminded jurors the investigation started out as a misconception. He said investigators initially thought Bava had been sitting in a driveway running radar when Comerzan sped by. James told them it wasn't until days later they checked the patrol's data to see the two had passed each other on the road.

"They say you can't fight city hall," James said. "Well this is super city hall."

James told jurors all the evidence was handed over to them from the prosecutor's office. He said he had to assume they didn't leave anything out.

"I don't have any confidence they played square," James told jurors.

James reminded jurors prosecutors presented a model of what possibly happened in the crash, based off of presumptions. "It told us not a thing about what actually happened to Trooper Bava," he said.

James told jurors the state didn't have a case against Comerzan, so they had to build one. "When the evidence is clear cut, you don't have to build a case," James said.

"Serghei has been through hell," James said.

Pointing to Comerzan, James said, "That young man shouldn't have been going that fast," James said. "But that doesn't make him a criminal."

"The defendant's choices put him through hell," Fox said in his rebuttal. "Real hell is losing your son, real hell is losing your brother."

Bava's mother and father were sitting in the front row of the court room.

Fox told jurors he'd love to see the in-car video from that day, the mechanical evidence in Bava's vehicle. Fox reminded jurors that evidence burned in the car when Bava crashed.

"The primary witness is dead and his vehicle is destroyed," Fox told jurors.

"In a felony resisting a lawful stop case, I wish I could ask [Bava] what happened," Fox said. "I wish I could do that, but he's not here."

Jurors began deliberating at around 11:30 a.m.

Both Comerzan and Bava had several family members at the St. Charles County court house standing by for the verdict. Several members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol were also seen, including the patrol's Superintendent Sandra Karsten.

Just before the start of jury selection Friday, prosecutors downgraded a charge against Comerzan. Instead of second-degree murder, Comerzan now faces a count of involuntary manslaughter.

Jurors heard opening statements and the state began presenting evidence Monday in Comerzan's second trial.

Several members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol testified in the second day of Serghei Comerzan's retrial Tuesday, including Sgt. Doug McPike, Trooper James Bava's supervisor and also at one time, Comerzan's family friend.

The state and defense team finished presenting their evidence Wednesday in the trial, setting up closing arguments Thursday.

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