HARLAN - The courtroom was tense as Shelby County Deputy Sheriff Chad Butler walked into court Friday afternoon to hear whether he'd have to spend at least five years of his life in jail.
Behind Butler, 29, sat his fiance, Hava Gaul, his parents, siblings and a number of friends. Gaul wiped tears away as Butler's mother put her arm around her.
On the other side of the room, some of Dwayne Jens' family sat in the back row. Like the Butler family, they had listened to the testimony but were anxiously waiting to hear the outcome for the man who shot their loved one.
Two uniformed Harlan police officers stood guard at the doors, not certain what the verdict might be or how the courtroom observers would respond.
Sheriff Gene Cavenaugh and Chief Deputy, both of whom testified during the trial, stood near an exit. One of their duties would be to take Butler in custody if a guilty verdict was rendered.
As the jury filed into the room there was little indication as to how they had voted. The deliberations had taken a little over three hours and they returned close 4:30 p.m.
Courtroom eyes shifted to District Court Judge James Richardson as the forewoman turned in the verdict.
"Not guilty," Richardson said, reading the answer outloud to the courtroom.
On one side of the courtroom a cheer went up. Butler hugged his defense, Lori Falk-Goss of Council Bluffs. Gaul's anxious tears turned to joyful ones as the deputy's supporters embraced.
The jury filed out of the courtroom, having returned its judgment. The Jens' family quickly filed out, too.
Butler said he did not want to comment at this time.
"Maybe next week," He said, adding that he hoped to return to his job and was grateful for the support he'd received.
Tom Butler, Chad's father, said it had been a long five-and-a-half months since the night of Dec. 30 when his son fatally shot Jens, 41, of Hancock, following an eight-mile chase. Tom Butler said he was actually listening to his police radio that night and heard the audio that was replayed in the courtroom. He said when he heard his son call for an ambulance he thought Jens' vehicle had crashed. Chad's words, "I shot him," were not transmitted over the system.
Butler was happy about the verdict and proud of his son. He expressed sympathy for the Jens' family.
"It is a tragedy for his family - ours, too.," he said. "If he just would have stopped."
Tom Butler had one other emotion. He said he was "kind of bitter" that Shelby County Attorney Marcus Gross, Jr. called a grand jury that eventually indicted his son."He should have looked closer at it," Tom said. "It was a huge waste of the taxpayers' money."
But, he, said, the family was going to celebrate Friday night.
"We haven't slept in six months," said Gaul. "I think we'll sleep good tonight."
She said Chad Butler is a quiet man who keeps things inside.
"He was trying to be strong for me," she said.
Gaul said she wasn't sure what to expect when she heard the jury had reached its verdict.
"You just don't know what to expect," she said. "He's been through so much the last six months. We knew him and knew he did what he had to do. We were praying everyone saw him that way."
Nina Tadlock, Dwayne Jens' children's maternal grandmother was upset by the verdict. Her husband, Bill, had listened to much of the testimony but was not in court for the verdict.
"He had to go away on business," she said.
Tadlock said she hadn't made it to court as she was watching Jens' two sons. The Tadlocks have temporary custody of Joshua, 14, the oldest.
"I don't know if he's (Joshua) heard the verdict yet," she said. "He went to a friend's,"
Tadlock added that she thinks he will take it "very, very hard" and that she was upset by the jury's decision. She said she thinks the case should have been tried elsewhere.
"I don't understand why they try it in Shelby County where everyone knows the sheriff," she said. "I don't think justice was done. I think a two-hour deliberation is awful quick."
Another of Butler's attorneys, David Richter of Council Bluffs, said he was starting to be concerned when the jury was still out after three hours. He expected a quick verdict would be good news for Butler.
"I am very pleased," he said.
Richter said the final witness he called Friday morning, Springfield, Mo. Assistant Police Chief Steve Ijames, was a good witness who helped Butler's case.
Ijames testified he shot a man as he turned to face him, but said everything moved in slow motion.
"I could see the smoke rise from the gun and wondered if the bullet would get to him (the suspect) before he shot me," he said.
Butler had testified to experiencing similar sensations after he shot Jens.
"He had actually experienced it and could relate what happens," Richter said.
Richter also said the witness who most concerned him was Angela Jens, Dwayne's daughter, who was present at the shooting.
"We all knew she would be truthful and we all knew the jury would feel sorry for her. I felt sorry for her," he said.
Richter said he was not sure if the prosecution's expert witness, Phil Corrigan, helped Butler's case, but said "he didn't hurt it."
During his closing statement he said Corrigan "imploded" on the stand, giving a 15-minute answer when there was no question.
"The guy lit up like a firecracker," Richter told the jury.
Richter said he did not think Butler meant he would do exactly the same thing if he had it to do over again, which is what he testified when asked by Thoman. Thoman expressed amazement at Butler's testimony and in his closing remarks.
Richter said he thinks Butler was referring to the last second, when he fired the fatal shot.
"He would do it the same," he said.
Ijames testified he did not think Butler should have approached Jens' vehicle following the chase. He said his department's procedures would have dictated waiting for backup help and using the sheriff vehicles public address system to give Jens commands.
Richter said he and Butler have talked about the Jens family and both feel badly for them.
"They are good people," he said.
Following the verdict, Sheriff Cavenaugh reiterated his trial testimony that he was surprised when he saw the videotape that showed Butler quickly approach Jens' truck, break his window and fire into the vehicle.
"But it's easy to criticize," Cavenaugh said. "We were not seeing what he was seeing."
The sheriff said he was very happy with the verdict and would welcome Butler back to the force.
"He is a good person," he said. "It is terrible it happened but sometimes it becomes part of the job."
Cavenaugh said he was not certain when Butler might return and had not discussed the possibility with them. He said he need a psychiatric release before Butler could return.
He said there would be no repercussions to Butler for his handling of the incident. "We will probably do more training in the pursuits area."
In his instructions, Richardson told jurors they could return a lesser verdict against Butler if they did not think him guilty of voluntary manslaughter - willful injury causing serious injury, involuntary manslaughter commission of a public offense, involuntary manslaughter by acting in a manner likely to cause death, or willful injury causing bodily injury.
Richardson told the jury they could find Butler guilty of voluntary manslaughter only if they thought the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Butler intentionally shot Jens, Jens died as a result, the shooting was done solely by reason of sudden, violent and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation, and Butler acted without justification.
Richter conceded the first two conditions were met, but argued the last two were not. He said the jury should not convict Butler because they thought the procedure he used in approaching Jens' vehicle was improper.
"It is what he was thinking as that last second," he said.
Thoman said a reasonable officer would not have "attacked Jens vehicle" after Jens stopped and that Butler killed Jens because the chase provoked him. He said Butler could have de-escalated the situation by waiting for backup and using the cruiser's P.A. system.
The Jens family was not available for comment. Efforts to reach Assistant Attorney General Charles Thoman, who prosecuted the case, were unsuccessful as of Friday evening.