OREM Orem city prosecutors who slapped an elderly woman with misdemeanor charges for not watering her lawn aren't planning to dismiss the case anytime soon and have asked for a February trial date.
"We're not really in the driver's seat," said Paige Benjamin, defense attorney for 70-year-old Betty Perry, who was arrested in July after a squabble with an Orem police officer over a citation related to her brown lawn. "(Prosecutors) have indicated they're not interested in any type of negotiations on this case."
However, Andrew Peterson, Orem city prosecutor, said he is "always open to the idea of settling this before trial."
Perry was charged in August with avoiding legal arrest and violating a zoning ordinance, both misdemeanors, after she refused to give officer Jim Flygare her name so he could write a citation for her dead grass.
For the February trial, Peterson said he plans to bring in witnesses who would testify that days before the incident, Perry allegedly made comments about anticipating a "fight with government" over her lawn, Peterson said.
During that "fight," Perry says the officer pushed her, making her fall into her door, while Flygare maintains she tripped. He then handcuffed her, put her in his squad car and took her to the Orem holding cell.
Flygare was later cleared after an investigation by the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Once the media learned of the arrest, the story flew across the country and even popped up in Europe. Many Web site bloggers and commentators, as well as California attorney Gloria Allred, couldn't believe that a grandmother would be arrested over a dead lawn.
Some even suggested that Flygare should have just written a citation and left, rather than handcuff the elderly lady, Peterson said. The problem was, Perry didn't give him her name. Without her name, a citation would be worthless.
As for filing the case?
"We don't consider it a waste of resources to enforce city ordinances," Peterson said.
But because of the "negative attention" the case is getting, Peterson asked 4th District Judge John Backlund to consider a jury pool of 100 or 150 people, rather than 20 or 25.
"We're talking about an incident that took what, 15 minutes?" Backlund asked, somewhat incredulously.
The attorneys asked for a three-day trial date in February, to which Backlund replied, "I can't see how this could possibly morph into a three-day trial."
He gave them a half-day for jury selection and a full day for the trial, with possible deliberation the next day if needed.
Benjamin said he would have seven or eight witnesses, and Peterson indicated he would have 10 to 12 witnesses.
There are no eyewitnesses to the scuffle, except Perry and Flygare, who have differing accounts.
A three-day jury trial is also needed to accommodate a larger jury pool to avoid empaneling residents who had already formed an opinion about the case based on the intense media attention, Peterson said.
The trial will begin Monday, Feb. 11, with jury selection and continue with testimony Tuesday.
"We are pushing forward," Benjamin said. "We believe she is innocent and she shouldn't be charged with this."
Allred, who walked arm in arm with Perry into last month's hearing in Orem, was noticeably absent from Thursday's hearing, as was Perry, who was excused, but Allred should be back for the trial, Benjamin said."I know she's very supportive of Ms. Perry," he said. "She plans to be here."
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