UPDATE: The trial reportedly ended with a hung jury Thursday, with the jurors unable to reach a unanimous verdict. A hearing on the case will be held in November to determine any further actions prosecutors wish to pursue or not.
A jury trial began Tuesday for a man accused of purposefully steering a forklift into another man who was riding an electric scooter at the time in the town of Quartzsite.
Prosecutors said in opening statements that in April 2016, Michael Roth rode the forklift next to Jack Jones’s scooter on Main Street, exchanging hostile words with him before intentionally steering the vehicle into him, causing Jones to fall off his bike and damage it. The prosecution contends that Roth then drove away from the scene.
Roth’s defense attorney Fred Welch countered, telling the jury that Jones, already angry from an argument over the value of a desert rock at the local McDonald’s, started “cussing” Roth out as he moved into the number two lane to pass him in the forklift. When he had passed, Welch says Roth moved back into the lane toward the curb, not realizing that Jones had sped up to continue cussing at him. The defense is that it was not done intentionally.
Jones took the stand mid-afternoon, telling the jury that Roth, whom he has known as an acquaintance for 8 to 10 years, had started the confrontation with him. Then, “All of a sudden he turned into me,” Jones said. Almost hit by the forks of the vehicle, Jones says he veered toward the curb to avoid being struck, and hit the curb.
But an accident reconstruction expert hired by the defense came to another opinion, and was set to testify that the evidence shows Roth’s forklift did not strike Jones’s bike or make any aggressive moves.
Roth has been in the defendant’s seat before at the Superior Court in Parker. The Quartzsite resident has a colorful history with La Paz County’s legal system, much of it stemming from a larger political skirmish that peaked several years ago when Roth and a coalition of other residents of the town, including Jones, challenged the actions of a previous Quartzsite police chief.
Roth was arrested multiple times during the course of that unrest for charges such as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. On at least one occasion, the charges were dismissed by the court. On at least one other occasion he was convicted by a jury and had it overturned on appeal.
A ban on video recording inside and outside the courtroom was issued last month by Superior Court Judge Jessica Quickle just days after a documentary filmmaker, Cyle O’Donnell, inquired about the possibility of covering the trial for his film on Quartzsite. The ban was issued in an administrative order citing “privacy and security interests of crime victim, individuals seeking protective orders, witnesses, and jurors, and to ensure the safety of all who visit or work in court facilities.” However, journalists are often granted permission to film in courtrooms when cases have a public interest. The jury admonition, read by Judge Newman in Tuesday’s trial opening, also acknowledges the possibility of cameras which do not record jury members.
Roth and Jones were ostensibly on the same side of the political drama in Quartzsite several years ago. But changing alliances in Quartzsite are not unusual, and have generated a mass of legal casework over the course of the last decade. The latest jury trial of Michael Roth is no exception.
This article will be updated with the verdict of the jury when available.