BRISTOL, Va. -- A jury has acquitted a Virginia police officer who was charged with murder for fatally shooting a driver who police said refused to exit his vehicle and drove toward the officer.
After a weeklong trial, jurors deliberated for less than two hours before finding Bristol police Officer Johnathan Brown not guilty Wednesday in the death of 31-year-old Jonathen Kohler, of nearby Bristol, Tennessee, news outlets reported.
Brown faced charges of murder, using a firearm in the commission of a felony and shooting into an occupied vehicle. While prosecutors argued that Brown was too aggressive, the defense claimed he acted in self-defense and in accordance with training.
A Virginia State Police news release at the time said that on March 30, 2021, Bristol police responded to a motel occupant's report of shots fired and officers encountered Kohler in the driver’s seat of a 1994 Ford Mustang.
“As officers were verbally engaged with Kohler, he backed up and then drove forward in an attempt to exit the parking lot, at which point one of the officers fired at Kohler’s vehicle,” the state police statement said. Kohler died at the scene and no officers were injured.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Heather Howard said Brown shot and killed Kohler because he had no choice when Kohler drove toward him.
Brown is white, and so was Kohler, according to officials.
The verdict was hard for Kohler’s mother, Leigh Ann Milliken, to hear.
“It was very, very hard. I have a knot in my stomach,” Milliken said. “It’s unreal that they wouldn’t convict somebody of murder like that.”