Calmer shouts profanity at judge in court; judge denies motion to move trial
FORSYTH, Ga. -- The first day of Christopher Calmer's mental competency trial began Tuesday at the Monroe County Courthouse in Forsyth.
Calmer is accused of killing Monroe County Deputy Michael Norris in September of 2014 when Norris and his partner, Dep. Jeff Wilson, responded to Calmer's home for a suicide call. Investigators say Calmer opened fire when Norris and Wilson approached the door, killing Norris and wounding Wilson.
A judge ordered that Calmer undergo a mental competency trial before his murder trial in order to determine whether he is mentally able to stand trial and understand the proceedings. This order came after Calmer was rushed from the courthouse on a stretcher minutes before a hearing in May and was seen both laying on a gurney and sitting in a recliner during proceedings following that incident.
On Tuesday, Judge Tommy Wilson heard a motion filed by the defense asking the judge that Calmer be allowed to lay on a gurney rather than a recliner throughout the trial. The defense argued that it is easier for Calmer to focus and to be aware of what is going on around him when he is laying down rather than sitting. Judge Wilson denied the request and said the courtroom is not compatible with a gurney. He said that he would allow a recliner, however.
In response to that, Calmer told the judge he intended to lay down no matter what. He told Judge Wilson that if he didn't allow him to have a gurney, he would lay on the floor. The judge said he would not permit Calmer to lay on the floor.
"I will lay on the floor if I want to," Calmer interjected.
"Do not interrupt me," Judge Wilson said.
"I will interrupt you if I want to. You are denying me medical attention. F--- you," Calmer shouted at the judge, with audible gasps coming from the room.
Judge Wilson reiterated that he would provide a recliner, but Calmer just laid his head down on the table and remained quiet through the rest of the proceedings.
The defense's main motion on Tuesday was a request that the trial be moved to a different county. They listed a number of reasons for that request, foremost of which was that they argued that the restaurant where they jury was supposed to be eating, which is located in close proximity to the courthouse so the members of the jury could walk, was not suitable for maintaining an unbiased jury. The defense claimed that the restaurant is known to have police memorabilia on the walls, such as blue ribbons, and that the restaurant also sponsors an annual event in honor of Dep. Norris.
However, Monroe County Sheriff John Bittick testified that he had spoken with the restaurant owner several times and has told them take down anything relating to police for the sake of the jury.
Judge Wilson denied the motion to move the trial.
Next, the defense said that the prosecution had violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) when they received Calmer's medial records without a warrant or subpoena. They argued that in any case, especially a death penalty case, all rules and laws should be followed explicitly, including HIPAA.
The prosecution said they got the medical records from the defense a few days prior to them receiving the documents without a warrant, so the judge denied the motion to have the medical records barred from evidence.
After the motions that the defense filed, the jury was brought in and the trial began.
The defense started with their opening statements to the jury. They claimed that Calmer has been in chronic pain for eight years due to a neck surgery he underwent in 2006. They said that because of that, it is difficult for him to focus or even talk. The defense told the jury that the evidence will show that this pain prevents him from being mentally competent enough to stand trial in a death sentence case.
Next, the prosecution then their opening statements. They said the trial was not about pain but that it was about whether Calmer understands what he is being charged with and the proceedings in the court. The prosecution said they have video evidence proving that Calmer can function normally and can talk to people normally despite his pain.
The defense then called their first witness, Dr. Gary Simons, a radiologist that works in Macon. Simons testified that his office had performed some CT scans of Calmer and that they showed evidence of the surgery that he had in 2006 on his spine. The surgery fused some of Calmer's vertebrae together.
During cross examination, the prosecution asked Simons if the surgery performed on Calmer was common or rare. Simons said it is a common surgery that happens about five times per day in Middle Georgia. He said about 90 percent of people who get the surgery feel better after they get it but up to 50 percent of those people will then start to feel pain or other symptoms possibly years after their surgery.