A circuit judge on Friday found a Conway man guilty of aggravated assault in a 2019 road rage case where the 20-year-old ran another motorist off the road several times.
Kerry Kelly, after throwing paperwork and a pen toward a bailiff and refusing to stand when the judge entered the courtroom, was ultimately ordered not to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle following the Friday morning bench trial. The order remains in affect until Kelly’s sentencing hearing, which will be held in March.
Before the bench trial began Friday morning, Hubert W. Alexander Jr., who represents Kelly, requested the case against the 20-year-old be dismissed.
Alexander said he believed it was unfair that deputy prosecutor Cortney Kennedy filed a second aggravated assault charge against his client nearly one year after the initial charge was filed. The move “violated” Kelly’s due process, the defense attorney said.
“We’ve been preparing on Mr. David “Allie” Harrison, you can’t all of a sudden come up with new information for another charge,” Alexander said.
Despite the defense’s claims that the newly-added charge was against Kelly’s rights, Kennedy said it should be “no surprise to them that Lily Ott be called as a witness” because she was the passenger in the victim’s vehicle when the offense occurred.
Circuit Judge Troy B. Braswell Jr. ruled in the state’s favor, saying the nature of the second charge did not change the case and that prosecutors have the right, even during a jury trial, to amend charges.
After the defense counsel’s request was denied, Kennedy called Harrison to the stand.
Harrison was the driver of the vehicle Kelly reportedly chased after and ran off the roadway on Jan. 26, 2019. Ott, his stepdaughter, was the passenger.
The incident leading up to Kelly’s charges began as Harrison attempted to make a left turn onto Old Morrilton Highway as he left the Conway Department of Sanitation’s landfill on the day in question. As he pulled onto the highway, Harrison said he suddenly noticed a red truck was driving toward him “at a high rate of speed.”
Harrison testified he was forced to slam on his brakes to avoid a collision as Kelly quickly approached his vehicle from the oncoming lane. Kelly “swerved into the other lane” and appeared to lose control of the red 2014 GMC Sierra he was driving as he quickly passed Harrison.
According to Harrison’s testimony, he stopped and “watched to make sure Kelly wouldn’t flip” as he recklessly drove passed him.
Once he realized Kelly had regained control of the truck, Harrison continued on his way and headed toward Hogan Lane. As he drove toward Hogan Lane, Kelly, who was 19 years old at the time, reportedly made a U-turn and began “tailgating” Harrison.
Harrison testified that Kelly followed “just a few feet” behind him. Eventually, the teen passed Harrison and began slamming on his brakes and driving inconsistent speeds, Harrison said.
As the suspect drove ahead of him, Harrison said he decided to pull into the Centennial Valley Apartments parking lot to “diffuse the situation.” However, Kelly also pulled into the parking lot from a separate entrance and attempted to approach the victim.
While on the stand, Kelly claimed he did not intend to cause harm but instead wanted to talk to Harrison about the situation.
The 20-year-old said he did not believe “driving is a joke” and wanted to address the victim about pulling out in front of him, noting his brother had died years ago in a car crash.
Alexander told the court he did not believe his client should be charged with a felony in this matter, noting that “at the worst, Kelly tried to run this man off the road.” The felony charge seemed extreme, Alexander said, because his client previously was found guilty of four to five misdemeanor charges in district court in a similar-type road rage case.
Kelly’s attorney told the victim he should have pulled off the roadway to avoid the situation because “there’s about 100 yards of grassy area between the roadway and the fence.” Alexander also questioned Harrison about whether he felt his life was in danger on the day in question and why he never filed aggravated assault charges on his vehicle’s behalf.
At this point, Kennedy objected against Alexander’s questioning and clarified that she filed the criminal charges against Kelly, not Harrison. Kennedy also said that a vehicle could not be considered as a victim of aggravated assault.
Officer Peter Beck also testified against Kelly on Friday.
The officer said that as he investigated the case, he went to Kelly’s home to talk to him about the allegations against him but he was not home at the time. A few hours later, he noticed the suspect was home and went to talk to him about the road rage case.
According to Beck’s testimony, Kelly began to drive away just before he approached his home, so he pulled him over. After he stopped the then-19-year-old, Kelly spontaneously announced he’d been home all day, the officer testified.
While the 20-year-old testified, Judge Braswell had him pause so that he could address the audience – Kelly’s family.
Two of the men with Kelly’s family were “making a mockery of what we’re doing” while another woman proceeded to talk as Kelly testified. Braswell told the group he had “respect and sympathy” for them but that they needed to show “proper decorum” in the courtroom.
Following the defendant’s testimony, court broke for a brief recess so that Braswell could read over case law pertaining to vehicles being considered deadly weapons. When the bench trial reconvened, Kelly’s family had dispersed throughout the pews on the right side of the courtroom. The defendant’s mother told other family members they needed to separate “to keep from talking to each other.”
After reviewing case law pertaining to vehicles being considered deadly weapons in certain scenarios, Braswell found Kelly guilty of one count of aggravated assault and dismissed the other.
“There is no doubt the situation … was a serious situation that could have ended much differently,” the circuit judge said, adding that it was “a blessing n one was seriously injured or killed” during the incident.
It was clear the victim was not injured because he drove “defensively” as Kelly swerved toward Harrison and attempted to run him off the roadway, Braswell said.
The circuit judge said driving can often be frustrating, especially when other motorists are driving below the speed limit in the left lane on the interstate or when they do not immediately notice when a stop light turns green. However, it is important to remain calm while behind the wheel, Braswell said.
Braswell also said it was clear Kelly did not drive after the victim the way he did just to talk to him given the previous case where he was found guilty of chasing after a woman and ramming into her vehicle and throwing a banana at the woman’s vehicle.
After the 20-year-old was found guilty of the Class D felony, he took his coat off, threw it onto the desk in front of him and later threw his court paperwork toward a bailiff. At this point, Braswell considered holding Kelly in contempt until his sentencing hearing but opted to let him remain on bond under the condition that he not drive a motor vehicle between now and then.
Kelly’s sentencing hearing will begin at 9 a.m. March 2 in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.