It was a gut wrenching, emotional end to this trial.
The case has been described from the beginning as a tragedy for everyone involved. But the main issue has always been one thing, was the use of deadly force justified. After nearly two weeks of testimony the question was answered with a verdict of not guilty.
Prosecutors, during closing arguments Thursday morning, restate they agree with the claim that former Bastrop County Deputy Daniel Willis thought he saw a gun when he shot Yvette Smith two years ago. But lead prosecutor Forrest Sanderson clarified, for him that doesn't mean Willis' actions were reasonable.
"That's not simply a semantic difference, if we stipulated this defendant saw a gun, that means Yvette Smith actually had a gun in her hand, which would have changed the entire dynamics of this case."
Sanderson said he did not believe any other charge, except murder, was appropriate. Defense attorney Robert McCabe continued to be critical of how Sanderson and investigators have handled the case.
"My belief about their cases hasn't changed. I called it garbage in the first trial and I'll call it garbage now," said McCabe.
Co-defense counsel Kristen Jernigan, during closing, pointed out how their expert witnesses analyzed the physical and psychological elements of the case. Jernigan said during closing arguments that even the prosecution's own experts couldn't dispute key scientific evidence they brought up.
"Ranger Barina testified on re cross that he agreed, Daniel Willis was in fear for his life when he shot Yvette Smith, why are we here?"
Defense attorney's also blasted the prosecution for suggesting the judge could create a new standard for law enforcement with a guilty verdict.
"I don't think they ever correctly interpreted the law. The law has been clear for decades, you have the right to use deadly force in defense of yourself, and you have the right to use that whether the danger is apparent or real," said Jernigan.
Emotions running high as Daniel Willis was found NOT GUILTY. Family of victim left courtroom in tears, unable to speak. @fox7austin— RaeAnn Christensen (@RaeOnFOX7) April 7, 2016
On February 16, 2014 Daniel Willis was sent to a violent domestic disturbance call north of Bastrop. After arriving dispatchers warned him that a woman who was inside the house had called 911 and said there was a struggle over a loaded shotgun.
The last report Willis got from dispatchers was that a gunman was at the front door.
He claims he saw a shiny object that appeared to be a gun, and that's why he fired.
"We're not doubting that he had those images in his mind. We don't care what the cause was, it doesn't matter," said Sanderson.
Smith's family got a $1.2 million from the county but they also wanted Willis to go to prison. After his first trial last year ended in a hung jury, it was decided the re-trail would be decided by Judge Albert McCaig.
The judge reached his verdict shortly after 3:00.
Judge to Yvette smiths family he says I'm truly sorry for your loss— rudy koski (@KoskionFOX7) April 7, 2016
Before announcing it, Judge McCaig quoted a portion of a speech made by Teddy Roosevelt called "the man in the arena." Roosevelt noted the sacrifice of a citizen who gets involved, gets dirty and continues to try even if his efforts fail. The judge today said Daniel Willis was that man and then said he was not guilty.
Moments after the verdict was read Willis' family started to cry. Smith's family also cried, with some running out of the courtroom. One person collapsed outside of the courthouse while another who was still inside shouted out out in anger.
Special prosecutor, Forrest Sanderson and his 2nd chair prosecutor, said they would not make a statement to the media until after the trial ended . They both left the courthouse Thursday without speaking to reporters. A person at his office, located across the street from the courthouse, later told FOX 7 that Sanderson would not be making a comment.
Attorney Robert McCabe told FOX 7 Willis still has his law enforcement license . While he doubts Willis wants to go back to the Bastrop County Sheriff's Office, he didn't rule out getting a job with another law enforcement agency.