All posts by Michelle Funkenbusch
Sunset Hills Mayor’s Felony Case Set For Grand Jury Wednesday; Board of Aldermen set to Vote on Impeachment Ordinance Tuesday
Grand Jury to be used to determine probable cause in case of assault of a cyclist by local Mayor Mark Furrer. The victim is represented by cyclist and St. Louis Trial lawyer Michelle Funkenbusch.
The felony assault and property damage case against Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer has been switched from the preliminary hearing docket to the St. Louis County Grand Jury. The case stems from allegations Mark Furrer intentionally hit cyclist Randy Murdick with his car after yelling “get off my $#^&ing road” several times. As many of you know, our law firm represents the cyclist in the personal injury case and we make it our regular practice to advocate for cycling safety and for sharing the roads. We have been asked many questions about the pending felony case and impeachment process. The Grand Jury hearing is scheduled this Wednesday December 10, 2014. The St. Louis Grand Jury process has been in the news a great deal lately with the “no true bill” finding regarding Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
On October 1, 2014, a Complaint was filed in St. Louis County, Missouri against Sunset Hills Mayor Mark Furrer for Second Degree Assault and First degree property damage, C and D felonies, following his attempt to run Randy Murdick off the road. Randy was on his bicycle while the Mayor was driving his red Mercedes convertible. According to the Prosecutor’s office, the investigating officer will be the only one to testify. The victim has not been asked to testify. The proceeding, like all Grand Jury proceedings, is closed to the public. We will likely find out the results Thursday.
Three independent witnesses support Randy Murdick’s version of the events. The Mayor has claimed in the media that Randy tried to hang onto his convertible after running a stop sign. Randy has vehemently denied the Mayor’s allegations and those allegations are not supported by any witnesses.
SUNSET HILLS BOARD OF ALDERMAN OPEN MEETING TUESDAY DECEMBER 9th, 2014 TO VOTE ON IMPEACHMENT ORDINANCE
Tuesday December 9th, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at the Sunset Hills Community Center will be the monthly Sunset Hills Board of Alderman meeting wherein they will be voting on the impeachment procedures introduced at the last meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, you have to make a request to speak if you wish to do so. You will have three minutes. We encourage all Sunset Hills residents and cyclists in our area to attend and voice your opinion at the meeting. We have learned that the Mayor may attempt to limit the opportunity to speak to only Sunset Hills residents and businesses. We were given a copy of a letter today wherein he is seeking Board of Alderman support to shut down non-residents from voicing their opinions. As a St. Louis Trial Law Firm, we believe that any attempt to limit non-residents from speaking is unconstitutional and we hope that you show up and make your voice heard if you use the roads in Sunset Hills or believe in supporting safety for all the vulnerable road users.
Some alderman, residents, and non-resident cyclists have been very vocal about the need to impeach the Mayor for his actions in this case and for other unrelated reasons. Cyclists and supporters of the Mayor both attended the last meeting heating up the room during the open forum. Some believe he should not be impeached unless he is found guilty of a crime first, while others believe the unethical actions he admitted to in the media, along with his actions since the alleged crime occurred, is enough to impeach. Missouri state law does not require a finding of guilt to impeach a Mayor in a city the size of Sunset Hills; however there are currently no ordinances in effect regarding impeachment procedure in Sunset Hills. The findings of the Grand Jury and likely the police report will be available before the vote to impeach the Mayor, which could come as early as January or February 2015.
WHY A GRAND JURY IN THE CRIMINAL CASE?
Some people may be confused as to why a Grand Jury is necessary as a “Complaint” was filed on October 1, 2014. That is true, however, there must still be a finding of probable cause to proceed to trial in Missouri. Here, the criminal justice process starts by the filing of a document called a “Complaint” wherein the prosecutor states that they believe probable cause exists that the defendant committed certain crimes. This filing is followed by either a preliminary hearing OR a Grand Jury proceeding resulting in an indictment if a “true bill” is issued. The prosecutor’s office in the Mayor’s case decided to send it to the grand jury either before or after it was scheduled for preliminary hearing at the last docket. This is within their right to switch to a Grand Jury.
In Missouri, a defendant who is subject to indictment by Grand Jury is denied the right to present evidence to explain or contradict the charge, although as we saw in the Wilson case, a prosecutor may choose to present contradictory or exculpatory evidence. The Mayor has no constitutional or other right to appear before the Grand Jury and will only be there if the prosecutor calls him as a witness. The handling of the Darren Wilson Grand Jury evidence and the fact he testified was unusual. It is unlikely the Mayor would be called as a witness, although not impossible. There are no defense attorneys involved in a Grandy Jury hearing. The fact that this case went to a Grand Jury is significant because if it went to a preliminary hearing the Mayor would have had the right to appear and cross-examine witnesses through counsel, unlike the grand jury indictment process. Plus, the public and media would be able to see the testimony in a preliminary hearing.
Even if a true bill is issued, the indictment is merely an accusation against the Mayor. The true bill is not “evidence” that the Mayor committed the crimes charged. He still has a right to a full criminal trial. However, as far as impeachment goes, if probable cause is found the “true bill”, if issued, could be relied upon by the Board of Alderman, along with the police report, for purposes of impeachment. Also, if a “true bill” is issued, an arraignment would then be scheduled, which is the formal presentation of charges against the Mayor in open court. During an arraignment, the charges would be read to Mark Furrer by a judge in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, and then Furrer would be asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. They can also ask to waive the reading and plead guilty or not guilty in paperwork. During this time is also when he may be offered a deal to avoid trial on the charges.
If you have any questions about a criminal or personal injury case arising our of crimes against cyclists, please do not hesitate to contact our firm. We would be honored to advocate on your behalf.
Michelle M. Funkenbusch
St. Louis Trial Lawyer and Bike Advocate