Superior Court Judge Michael Price declined Tuesday to dismiss a felony harassment charge against suspended Spokane police detective Jay Mehring, on trial for allegedly threatening to burn down his estranged wife’s home.
Defense attorney Chris Bugbee made the motion after Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindsey rested the prosecution case after six days of testimony.
Bugbee argued that the prosecution had failed to show, as case law requires, that Mehring had made a “true threat,” and not uttered words protected as free speech.
The prosecutor urged the court to let the jury decide whether a “reasonable person” would conclude whether a “true threat” was made.
The jury could get the case as early as today, depending on whether the defendant takes the stand – an issue that remained uncertain late Tuesday.
“The court has a great deal of information that it’s heard,” Price said in denying the motion, allowing the defense to begin its case.
The judge said the relationship between Jay and Lisa Mehring, following her filing for divorce in November 2006, had become “extraordinarily dysfunctional,” and that both were “recipients and contributing parties to heated arguments.”
But by March 2007, the “mean-spirited and vindictive comments from both” reached new levels, the judge said.
“I’m satisfied that … Mrs. Mehring did, indeed, feel threatened,” Price said, describing her as a “strong-willed” and “very impressive person” facing a difficult challenge.
“She called 911,” the judge said. “She didn’t have to do that, and she did. She signed a restraining order.
“I find it curious that a strong-willed person would do that,” Price said. “She understood the ramifications of this.”
The judge said there was sufficient evidence to allow the trial to proceed. “She felt the need for protection; she felt threatened.”
Price’s ruling is on whether the prosecution showed that Jay Mehring’s comments violated state law.
The question of whether there is proof of that beyond a reasonable doubt will rest with the jury.
During three days of testimony, Lisa Mehring testified that she didn’t fear her husband and didn’t want him arrested, but had grown distrustful of her attorney, close friends and police who intervened in what they perceived as a case of domestic violence. There has been no testimony about physical abuse.
Lisa Mehring told the jury that three days after her husband’s arrest on March 30, 2007, she sent the man she affectionately called “Bufford” a text message, identifying herself as “Little High Horse” – the name he’d given her. A court order prevented him from contacting her.
The message said: “Little High Horse needs to know what trail to ride to get to the straight path. She feels lost and doesn’t trust others’ direction.”