Keith Meyer eye-rolled, gestured and scoffed Thursday as he defended himself through an unusual first day of testimony at his assault trial.
The 71-year-old former Davenport alderman stood up Thursday morning to give an opening statement, nervously shaking as he belted out a Bible verse before introducing himself as a licensed winery operator and pointing to an old picture of a judge hanging on the courtroom wall, calling him a family neighbor from long ago.
As Meyer continued, Assistant Scott County Attorney Will Ripley objected, calling the opening “irrelevant” to the charges that Meyer fetched a shotgun from his house and pointed it at his neighbor last year.
“You’re objecting to my opening statement?” Meyer asked.
The objections mounted after that; there were at least 40 throughout the day.
Meyer’s opening statement also was interrupted when a juror became ill and vomited in the courtroom. The juror was allowed to return.
Meyer, who has partial hearing loss, often talked over objections and witness testimony. A court reporter is transcribing the trial proceedings for Meyer to read on a computer screen in real time.
With no defense lawyer, Meyer is allowed to approach witnesses on the stand. At one point, he came within a foot of his alleged victim, John Fahs, while holding a stick pointer and asking where Fahs was standing when police arrived on Nov. 11, the date of the incident.
He referred to himself in the third person as he asked questions.
Among the objections by Ripley was that Meyer often asked questions beyond the scope of testimony. At one point, a two-minute redirect by the prosecutor became a 40-minute cross-examination by Meyer. His cross-examination of Fahs lasted an hour and a half.
Some of the questions seemed to have nothing to do with the trial.
“Do my dogs like you?” he asked Davenport police officer Randall Gard, who was on the stand. He also asked Gard if he played for the Vikings, possibly referring to the Minnesota pro football team.
Witnesses either couldn’t understand some of Meyer’s questions or seemed startled by them. There was plenty of “I’m sorry, could you repeat that,” “I didn’t understand the question,” “Is that your question?” and “Can I answer that?” coming from the witness stand.
Meyer showed Gard a photo that Fahs took of him Nov. 11, showing Meyer with his shotgun strapped over his chest.
“Is this a photograph of a person demonstrating the right to bear arms or threatening someone?” he asked Gard. Ripley objected to the question.
Meyer had to be reprimanded at least once for not following court rules.
While cross-examining Gard, Meyer referred to his statements to police that he never pointed the shotgun at Fahs. But when given the opportunity at his opening statement to deny that he pointed the gun, he didn’t.
Instead, he claimed his was a case of “self defense” and argued that the victim was the one who had been attacking him and his guests over the years and damaging his property.
“The victim has endangered the safety of people coming to visit the defendant,” Meyer said.
Fahs testified that on Nov. 11 as he was going home, he passed Meyer and could hear the defendant swearing at him.
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Meyer wanted to know exactly what the swear words were.
Then Fahs testified that he grabbed a camera and whisk broom to take pictures of a speed bump Meyer was building on a driveway the two share. That’s when Meyer went back to his house and got his shotgun, Fahs said.
“Did the defendant point the gun at you?” Meyer asked. Fahs said yes.
Meyer remarked in his opening statement about his disability.
“If you put your finger in your ear as you listen to me, you’ll hear what I hear,” he said.
Before the trial began, Meyer raised a concern that he is not being allowed access to his laptop computer for use during the trial. He later reiterated that concern in front of the jury before the judge interrupted him.
“I’m sorry, but a pro se (person representing himself) is not allowed to bring electronics into the courthouse,” Meyer told the jury while cross-examining Fahs.
Meyer is charged with assault while displaying a dangerous weapon and faces two years in prison if found guilty of the aggravated misdemeanor.
During a break, a Quad-City Times reporter asked Meyer why he chose to represent himself.
“I have a right to,” he said.