KENTON — The defense opened its portion of the case in the trial of Gerrick “Tony” Sheldon in explosive fashion Monday, bringing to the stand a witness who clashed repeatedly with prosecutors and was threatened by the presiding judge with a contempt of court charge.
Shorty after that witness completed his testimony, the defense rested its case.
Sheldon is charged with complicity to attempted aggravated murder and other charges related to his alleged attempt to have another person burn down the house of his estranged wife on Aug. 13 of last year. Prosecutors allege the Harrod man concocted a plan to have gasoline poured into a dryer vent and ignited at the home his estranged wife, Danielle Sheldon. Prosecutors say he enlisted the aid of his 16-year-old son, Garrett, to carry out the plan.
Garrett Sheldon testified earlier in the trial that he told his father he would carry out the act, but had no intention of doing so. He said he instead made arrangements to let his step-mother know he would be knocking on the back door of her residence that morning and for her to alert police.
The state rested its case shortly before noon Monday.
The defense’s first and only witness, Jonathan Rhoades, was then summoned to the stand. Rhoades told jurors that Cidra Billiel, the former girlfriend of Hunter Sheldon — another of the defendant’s sons — confided to him that Hunter and Garrett Sheldon were trying to “set up” their father to take the fall for the alleged crimes.
The witness said the teenage boys were at odds with their father because they wanted to move out of his house. Rhoades testified that, based on conversations he had with Billiel, Hunter and Garrett “wanted to live together, but Tony didn’t want that because Garrett was doing drugs.” Rhoades said he had provided Hunter and Billiel with drugs on previous occasions.
Rhoades, an inmate in the state penal system, was at times less than cooperative during Prosecuting Attorney Bradford Bailey’s cross-examination, leading to a series of testy objections from defense attorneys and several terse exchanges between both attorneys and Judge Scott Barrett.
Bailey attempted to discredit Rhoades in the eyes of jurors, pointing to the lengthy criminal record of the witness and the fact that he shared jail space with Tony Sheldon at the Multi-County Correctional Center in Marion in the months leading up to trial.
The prosecutor claimed a statement given by Rhoades to investigators was actually written by Sheldon, a claim Rhoades denied, and Bailey then focused on the alleged mental health issues of the witness. Bailey asked Rhoades to read aloud for jurors a letter he had written from jail to mental health experts, and the witness twice declined to do so.
Following his second refusal, Barrett ordered the witness to read the statement under threat of a contempt of court charge. At that point Bailey read the letter for jurors. In it, Rhoades said to mental health professionals, “I don’t know what is real and what isn’t … can you please help me.”
Billeil was called back to the stand as a rebuttal witness and claimed virtually everything Rhoades had told jurors was untrue.
Tuesday’s session in the Hardin County courtroom will begin with closing arguments from attorneys, followed by formal instructions to the 12 jurors in the case. Jurors will then begin their deliberations.
Barrett said he hopes to have the case in the jury’s hand before noon.