|Stewart just days before his world was turned upside down|
After a month-long investigation, the decision by district attorney Michael Tantillo to send the case against Stewart to the grand jury was predictable. Tantillo could have thrown the case out after receiving the Sherriff’s report, or immediately charged Stewart. Either action would have been controversial. Instead, he decided to punt. By putting the ball in the grand jury's court, the elected official avoided taking a stand on what must be one of the most politically sensitive cases the area has ever seen.
"I have made the determination that it would be appropriate to submit the evidence to a grand jury, for their determination as to what action should be taken in this matter," read Tantillo’s abdication.
The next step is for the evidence to be reviewed by a grand jury, a group of 23 people, something of an expanded trial jury. There is no timetable for the hearings other than “soon” and they are confidential. The evidence is presented by someone in the district attorney’s office, expected to be Tantillo himself. But there is no judge, no defense attorney; no questioning of evidence or witnesses, beyond questions the grand jury itself may submit. Stewart’s lawyers won’t be present unless Stewart is called to testify.
It’s impossible for me -- and many others -- to believe Stewart meant to hit or hurt Ward Jr. when the young driver darted towards Stewart’s car. But did Stewart mean to spray a little dirt on the kid as he drove past and things then went horribly wrong? That’s a legitimate question many others have. If the grand jury has the same question at the end of the hearing, Stewart could be charged with second-degree manslaughter or even negligent homicide for "recklessly causing the death of another person."
Once the case is presented, if a majority of the grand jury believe the “evidence is legally sufficient and provides reasonable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime," an indictment is handed down. Stewart would be charged with a crime and a date set for trial.
It’s unclear whether Stewart will be called to testify before the grand jury, or if he will ask to testify. The grand jury is able to call and question witnesses and one would expect Stewart to be one of those witnesses. But there are no guarantees.
At this point, I expect the grand jury will do the same thing as the DA and simply pass the buck. Give it back to the DA for a regular trial by a jury.
Much of the case in a manslaughter trial goes to intent and state-of-mind. Only Stewart can answer those questions. That’s why I believe he should come forward now and talk about that night. Why wait? He might even influence the grand jury.
Stewart has refused to answer questions, saying he needed to “respect the ongoing investigation process.” Well the investigation concluded two weeks ago.
But while the grand jury proceedings are confidential, witnesses are free to discuss their testimony outside the courtroom and so there are no legal constraints on Stewart taking questions.
Although the answers would seem obvious, people want to see and hear how Stewart responds. Stewart’s short, scripted remarks before the Atlanta race didn’t do the trick.
Of course there’s no requirement that Stewart testify before the grand jury or even if the case does go trial. That’s up for the defense to decide. But it seems the only way Stewart can convince either jury - or the court of public opinion - that he had no intent to injure Ward or even just spray dirt on him, will be for him to answer the questions himself.
So why wait?