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Trial and Error

Bridges McRae faces two more trials in beating case.



Former Memphis police officer Bridges McRae left the federal courtroom a free man last week, after the jury in a high-profile case failed to reach a unanimous verdict as to whether or not McRae violated victim Duanna Johnson's civil rights.

But McRae isn't in the clear yet. The U.S. Attorney's Office has requested a new criminal trial, though a date had not been set by press time. And if the criminal trial results in another hung jury or if McRae is found not guilty, he also faces a civil suit.

In February 2008, McRae was caught on surveillance video beating Johnson, a transgender woman who'd been arrested on prostitution charges, in the lobby of the Shelby County Jail. Though the 18-minute video contains no audio, Johnson later told reporters that McRae hit her after she refused to respond to taunts of "he/she" and "faggot." Johnson was found shot to death in a North Memphis street later that year in a seemingly unrelated incident. No arrest was made in that case.

Johnson's attorney, Murray Wells, filed the civil suit against McRae in late 2008, but the federal court issued a stay after the conclusion of the criminal trial.

"Even if McRae is found not guilty, my case moves forward," Wells said. "The burden of proof is substantially different. In the criminal case, it's beyond a reasonable doubt, which is pretty high. My burden would be preponderance of evidence, which means more likely than not."

If McRae is convicted in the civil trial, the monetary award would go to Johnson's estate.

In the recent criminal trial, the jury voted 11 to one to convict McRae. After hours of deliberation, the jurors asked Judge Thomas Anderson to define "willfulness," since they were asked to decide if McRae willfully violated Johnson's civil rights.

"I kept hearing that one juror had trouble with the definition of willful. To me, it seems pretty obvious in the video," said Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center director Will Batts. "To have him walk away [from Johnson] and come back multiple times. The reports were that he had handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles. That all seems to indicate a willful thought-out response."

McRae claimed he was acting in self-defense and described Johnson as aggressive. McRae's attorney did not return phone calls for comment.

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