A former Navy SEAL accused of making up a story about being shot in a mall parking lot last year, a tale that gripped readers after Heben recounted his ordeal to Navy Times, was found not guilty Wednesday.
Former Quartermaster 2nd Class (SEAL) Chris Heben, 45, faced up to 190 days in jail and a $1,750 fine for falsification and obstruction of official justice.
The jury reached its verdict after deliberating for half an hour at the end of the second day of his trial about an hour on day two of the trial in Akron, Ohio, which was streamed online by an ABC affiliate in Cleveland., during which
Heben testified he was shot by the driver of a low-profile, dark gray car on the evening of March 28, 2014, after the car nearly backed into him and he exchanged words with the occupants of the car.
Beyond the facts of the shooting, both sides focused particularly on Heben's extensive training as a SEAL, highlighting his supposed ability to remember important details and respond to an attack, as well as his knowledge of firearms and first aid.
The prosecution pointed out the immense publicity Heben received for sharing his story, saying it was pointing out a possible motive for lying about what had really happened to him.
"Did you shoot yourself, Mr. Heben?" prosecutor Craig Morgan asked. "Was it an accident?"
There would have been no media attention from a story about a former SEAL accidentally shooting himself, Morgan said.
"He had already been on TV many times in his life before this. He didn't need the attention," Heben's attorney, James Burdon, countered. "This person was a victim and the Bath Police Department made him into a defendant."
Heben took the stand Wednesday morning to recounting the story, which he remembered telling to about half a dozen news outlets, he said, about plugging the wound with his thumb and trying to chase down the shooter's car to get a license plate number before seeking medical attention at a local fire station.
That story, Morgan said, didn't align with Heben's cell phone records and video surveillance pulled from around the fire station that day.
Not a single person called the police to say that they'd seen the altercation or Heben in the parking lot that day, Morgan added, which is common in violent public incidents like this.
In addition, two on-duty police officers who were parked about 65 feet from where Heben said the altercation took place testified they didn't see or hear anything, though his attorney argued that voices weren't raised and the subsequent chase was low-speed, so it wouldn't have been noticeable.
Timeline in dispute
The case rested on one phone call Heben made that evening.
The prosecution argued that records show it was made near Heben's home in Medina. The defense argued that cell phones don't reliably ping the towers nearest where the call was made, so Heben could have dialed somewhere between the shopping center and the fire station.
Heben testified that he left his parents' home around 5:00 p.m., drove five miles to the West Plaza Market, got in two verbal altercations with his assailants, was shot, then chased the assailants for a few minutes at low speed before driving to a fire station for medical attention.
The prosecution argued that Heben's phone calls pinged a tower near his home at 5:09 p.m. and 5:32 p.m., then bounced off a tower in Bath Township at 5:38 p.m. after he arrived at the fire station.
Heben acknowledged calling his mother at 5:09 to tell her he had left his son at their home while he went to the store. Then hHe said he then called his father at 5:38 to say he'd been hurt and he was going to the fire station.
However, Detective Dan Lance, who originally investigated Heben's police report, testified that Heben told him he had made two calls from the fire station parking lot to his father, at 5:32 and 5:38, though phone records indicated that those calls bounced off of two cell towers miles away from each other.
Heben said he could not recall the 5:32 call to his father.
Morgan alleged that Heben had been near his home when he placed the 5:32 call, so he couldn't have gone to the plaza, gotten into an altercation and chased his assailants before arriving at the fire station in six minutes later.
Morgan also cited video taken from around the fire station showing Heben driving eastbound before turning into the parking lot at 5:37 . Heben initially told police he had approached from the north after chasing his assailants.
The defense argued that the second call could have come from a number of places between his home and the station, as Heben's phone regularly pinged his home tower when he was working across the street from West Park Plaza, about halfway between the two points.
Heben said that after the investigation began, he recalled that he had taken a different route to the station than the one he originally told police he had taken. He said that he had started to drive west toward his house, out of habit, then turned around and headed east to the station.
That was news to Morgan, who accused Heben of changing his story once he realized that police didn't believe him.
From victim to defendant
Heben said that Lance's first question, when he was first interviewed in his hospital room on April 1, 2014, Lance's first question was whether he had ever been arrested.
Lance testified that he had done background checks on Heben before the interview, finding a prior conviction for forging steroid prescriptions and verifying his Navy record.
At that point, Heben said, "I felt that he thought I was a suspect in my own shooting."
Morgan continued to point out inconsistencies in Heben's testimony. For example, Heben said that at first he didn't realize he'd been shot because he never saw the gun or a muzzle flash.
But Morgan cited an April 25 interview with ABC's "20/20" news program, in which Heben recalled hearing a popping noise before doubling over in pain.
The prosecutor spent a good deal of time focusing on the media reaction to Heben's shooting and accused him of seeking attention.
Burdon countered that law enforcement had asked Heben to stay out of the spotlight and were annoyed that he had given interviews.
In his closing argument, Burdon told jurors it was their responsibility to decide whether the prosecution had proved that Heben hadn't been at West Park Plaza that evening.
Morgan argued that the list of inconsistencies in the case proved that Heben had been dishonest during the course of the investigation and trial, proving he had falsified his report and obstructed justice.