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Judge rules on several issues in trial over trooper’s death

A judge made decisions regarding several issues surrounding the murder trial resulting from a trooper’s death.

Judge Ted House ruled that no more than six uniformed law enforcement officers can sit in the courtroom during Serghei Comerzan’s trial. That excludes the court’s own security and any uniformed officers who testify at the trial and are finally excused.

Audrain County prosecutors charged Comerzan with murder, resisting arrest and several traffic violations after Trooper James Bava crashed his patrol cruiser and died on Aug. 28, 2015. Bava was attempting to pull over Comerzan for speeding near the Boone and Audrain County line, totaling his Dodge Charger on Highway FF.

Comerzan’s attorney, Charlie James, asked the court to bar all uniformed law enforcement officers, with the exceptions the judge granted, for fear that the Highway Patrol was trying to influence the outcome of the case. James argued Friday at a motion hearing that the patrol’s command staff was trying to “pack the courtroom with blue” in an attempt to sway a jury toward convicting Comerzan. Special Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Watson said uniformed officers would sit in court to support the Bava family at the hearings they attended.

Judge House also decided that James cannot use the Highway Patrol’s pursuit policies, Bava’s “prior driving behavior” or “inquiring into whether Trooper Bava acted unreasonably during any pursuit on August 28, 2015.” Prosecutors argued to restrict that information during Friday’s hearing, claiming such information amounted to blaming Bava for his death instead of focusing on Comerzan’s actions.

Assistant Prosecutor Scott Fox said in the guilt phase of the case, the jury should decide on whether or not Comerzan knew, or reasonably should have known, that Bava was trying to pull him over. By introducing evidence regarding Bava’s training and driving records, Fox said the case would shift the blame to the victim, who cannot defend himself in court.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for March 31, with a four-day jury trial set to start April 10. Judge House said the court plans to call 110 potential jurors for selection in St. Charles County, where the trial was moved from Audrain County in 2016.

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