Jury finds Serghei Comerzan not guilty in death of trooper

A jury found Serghei Comerzan not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Trooper James Bava. He was also found not guilty of resisting a lawful stop. (FILE)

After nine hours of deliberation, a jury in St. Charles found Serghei Comerzan not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Trooper James Bava Friday morning. Comerzan was also found not guilty of resisting a lawful stop.

Friday marked the end of the 23-year-old's retrial. A hung jury in May could not determine his charges.

Jurors handed the judge a verdict 20 minutes after they resumed deliberating Friday morning. As the judge read the jury's verdict, Comerzan remained stoic, sitting upright in his chair.

Lawyers did not ask the judge to poll the jurors.

Comerzan left the courtroom in St. Charles as soon as the verdict was read. His family gathered in the lobby to pray.

"Relieved," Charles James, Comerzan's attorney, said when asked how he felt after the verdict. "I was worried about this verdict, this case," he said. "The right verdict was reached, I have no qualms about that whatsoever."

James went on to compliment Assistant Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney, Scott Fox. "He did a wonderful job for the state. If it weren't for his skills, this wouldn't have been a close case. Scott was a very fair, confident, highly skilled lawyer, he made this a close case. But the jury, nevertheless, made the right verdict."

Fox said despite the result, he still believes in the justice system. "We still believe in the case, we will keep trying cases like this in the future," he said Friday.

"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," Fox said.

After the verdict, Comerzan's attorney said he had a message for the Bava family. "I'm sure their son was a great young man, it's a tragedy I can't even begin to comprehend," James said. "This case was never personal for me in that respect, I don't have any criticism of their son. He was a great young fella," James said, appearing emotional. "I feel for them, I really do, I'm a father."

Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent Col. Sandra Karsten released the following statement in reaction to the verdict:

“This has been a very difficult period of time for James' family, friends, and for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. 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.”

Comerzan's charges stem from the 2015 death of Trooper James Bava. Prosecutors spent the week trying to convince jurors Comerzan knew Bava was attempting to pull him over while he was speeding on a motorcycle. Comerzan's lawyers maintained the state didn't have the facts to prove it. In Comerzan's first trial, the judge declared a mistrial in May after jurors could not agree on the verdict.

Jurors spent nine hours deliberating Thursday night. Within 20 minutes Friday morning, the jurors told the judge they had reached the decision to acquit him.

Comerzan's lawyers said he doesn't think the result of the case sends a message to law enforcement. "All these troopers are doing what they're told to do, and I understand that. They don't make [charging] decisions."

"[Jacob] Shellabarger, the Audrain County elected prosecutor, politician, he made those decisions," James said. "He has six state troopers living near his office by the courthouse, thinking he could get a lot of votes. So that might've had something to do with it," James said.

The Office of the Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney released a statement following the verdict saying that the best resources available were utilized to in the case.

“Trooper James Bava made the ultimate sacrifice through serving and protecting the citizens of Missouri," the statement read. "The Missouri State Highway Patrol coordinated and executed a thorough, complete and exhaustive investigation into the manner, cause and details of the death of Trooper Bava."

Fox confirmed there's no other further, criminal, legal action that could be sought against Comerzan. He said it's possible there could be civil action.

James said Comerzan recently got married. He said before his arrest, he was taking classes at an area community college. He said he has an interest in engineering and going back to school.

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