Grant Gieger, a 30-year-old Bunnell man with a long rap sheet, was again arrested last February after an incident involving a childhood friend and that friend’s wife—the woman Gieger had been having an affair with. Gieger ended up facing a set of charges that could have put him away for life. But he then took the biggest gamble of his life: he turned down a plea offer that would have netted him 10 years in prison, possibly enabling to get out in eight.
He decided instead to take his chances with a jury and those same charges, including a life felony stemming from an accusation of armed burglary. It’s a big chance to take against Flagler County juries that aren’t known for their clemency. But Gieger knew something that the jury would soon find out: for all the weaponry involved—a revolver and a knife—the death threats, the bullet hole in the victims’ carport and the 911 call of a terrified victim, the case against him was not nearly as damning as the prosecution was making it out to be.
Wednesday afternoon, at the end of a two-day trial and jury deliberations just four minutes shy of two hours, Gieger’s gamble appeared to have paid off: he was found guilty on three counts, but on what amounts to lesser charges that could each result in a maximum of five years in prison, and quite possibly less when he is sentenced either on December 6 or shortly after that. On a charge of firing a gun, he was found not guilty.
He had sat for a day of jury selection and two days of trial facing forward, immobile and stone-faced. When the verdict was read at 3:30 this afternoon, he cracked a smirk and nodded to himself approvingly, and nodded again when his attorney, William Bookhammer, patted him on the shoulder.
It was a remarkable turnaround in a case fraught with bizarre twists and claims, but also, in Bookhammer’s summation to the jury, “shoddy” police work by the Bunnell Police Department. That police work appears to have sowed the most doubt in the jury’s mind about the most serious charges against Gieger: that he committed an armed burglary, and that he fired a gun on his alleged victims’ property. The gravity of the case fell apart when Bookhammer drilled holes in the prosecution’s claim that Gieger himself had fired the shot—logical as that may have sounded to any reasonable person, as the prosecutor put it. The reason: a supposed shell casing that had been seen by a witness at the scene, and picked up by a police officer, was never seen again. And Gieger was carrying a revolver, not a semi-automatic weapon. A revolver, Bookhammer said, doesn’t eject shell casings.
Mercilessly, Bookhammer also undermined the credibility of one of the alleged victims, Marjorie DeGaetano, the woman Gieger had had an affair with, and who was in court most of the time. “She did not tell the truth numerous times,” Bookhammer said of her testimony during the trial. “So I want you to remember that as well.”
Then he turned to the work of the Bunnell Police Department, whose case it was. “Was evidence contaminated? Was evidence mishandled or destroyed? Because now we have this shell casing,” Bookhammer continued, the shell casing Anthony Ross, DeGaetano’s husband and the other alleged victim in the case, had said had been found on his carport. “It’s gone,” Bookhammer said, imputing the prosecution for bringing a case “based on shoddy police work, poor-quality photographs, witnesses that have contradicted other witnesses, witnesses that have flat-out not told the truth, and physical evidence that shows that Mr. Gieger could not have been the person that put that hole in the carport. That’s their case. They’re the ones that are bringing it to you. So hold them to that burden of proof. Something is not right. You shouldn’t find a person guilty based on this evidence as presented in front of you—not to burglary, not to aggravated assault, not to shooting into a building.” (Bunnell police never so much as tested Gieger’s hands to detect whether he’d fired a gun.)
Bookhammer went two for three: the jury found Gieger guilty of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, but not armed burglary, and not firing a weapon. On the life-felony charge of armed burglary, the jury found him guilty of armed trespassing instead.
The incident took place last Feb. 9 near midnight at a trailer on Lot 60 at 2250 Old Moody Boulevard ion Bunnell, where Ross and DeGaetano lived. The couple’s dog had been barking. When Ross investigated, he found Gieger (pronounced Gigger) at the front door allegedly trying to force his way in (though no evidence of forced or attempted forced entry was submitted), and Gieger telling Ross—according to Ross—that if he didn’t open the door there’d be blood and Ross “wouldn’t live to see Valentine’s day.”
Ross retreated, according to the arrest report, and picked up a knife for protection, and DeGaetano called 911. The shots were heard shortly after that (the consensus was three shots in all, according to the prosecution, two according to the arrest report), Bunnell police and Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies arrived, ordered Gieger to disarm and stop walking away from them, then tased him and arrested him.
Joe LeDonne, the assistant state attorney prosecuting his first trial in Flagler=–he replaces Christy Opsahl, who went into private practice—had repeatedly characterized the case as “simple,” based on the facts: an armed burglary, even though Gieger had not gained entry to the house, because he was on Ross’s property, a gun fired, and an intent to harm.
“You saw the gun, you saw the black revolver,” LeDonne told the jury, recalling witnesses speaking of either two or three or four shots. “The most important thing about their stories is that they remember there were multiple shots.”
He described the two men as having been childhood friends, “but at the end of the day, the defendant was sleeping with his wife.” The shot in the carport could not be explained, but the bullet hole “was very clear,” the prosecutor said. That Gieger may have been drunk is irrelevant. “However trashed he may or may not have been, that you do not take that into account,” LeDonne said.
The prosecutor had calmly delivered his closing argument, going over the case point by point without theatrics or a hint of animus, letting the evidence speak for him. But it was a different story after Bookhammer’s closing—after Bookhammer laid out the inconsistencies, and particularly the seeming illogic of a revolver popping shell casings.
When LeDonne returned for his last word—the prosecution always has the last word in closing arguments, as it must prove its case, while the defense need prove nothing—he was rattled: his pitch rose, he was suddenly hectoring the jury rather than speaking as he had previously–“Don’t force doubt, and don’t speculate,” he said repeatedly, “focus on what did happen, focus on what you heard and what you’ve seen”—and he even more than Bookhammer used language that irrigated the seed of reasonable doubt Bookhammer had planted: LeDonne tried to explain the contradiction between the invisible shell casing and his own witness’ testimony (it had been Ross who’d spoken of seeing the shell casing, and seeing a cop pick it up), he himself fell back on uncertainty: “He probably shot that gun. That’s what happened. It’s obvious.”
It may have been obvious, but not beyond doubt, as the jury decided.
Gieger is still guilty of aggravated assault and armed trespassing (third-degree felonies each, with a maximum prison sentence of five years), and resisting an officer (a first-degree misdemeanor), and he has a different charge not yet dealt with: possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. That charge had been part of the original case, but was severed into a different case that a different jury must hear, unless Gieger decides to take a plea on that charge.
“If he enters a plea of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and he says that he is in actual possession of the firearm, the judge is required to give three years,” Bookhamme said.
Gieger was returned to the Flagler County jail. His bond was revoked, but that’s immaterial: he’s been in jail since Feb. 10, when he was originally arrested, and now that time spent in jail will be credited to time served, which means whatever sentence he receives will have nearly a year deducted from its total. That next appearance before Circuit Judge Matthew Foxman, who presided over the trial, is on Dec. 6.