CROWN POINT — A Lake Criminal Court jury convicted a man of murder and criminal recklessness late Friday after a week-long trial complicated by the defendant's decision to represent himself.
Ronald Menzie, 42, wore a jail uniform and fumbled through questioning during the week-long trial before Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez.
Menzie fatally shot Broderick Harbin, 30, on March 11, 2018, inside a woman's home in the 2100 block of Carolina Street in Gary.
Menzie fired two shots at Harbin, who had argued and fought with the woman and was sitting in a kitchen chair refusing to leave. Harbin was shot in the head and died at the scene.
Jurors returned about midnight Friday with guilty verdicts on murder and criminal recklessness counts. The jury also convicted Menzie of a criminal firearm enhancement, said Bradley Carter, spokesman for the Lake County prosecutor's office.
Vasquez scheduled a sentencing hearing for Aug. 9.
'Don't say my name'
Bunita Boyd and two of her children testified she had a barbecue and card party that day, and Menzie arrived at the house after dark. Boyd said she and Harbin argued and fought, and Harbin sat down as they continued to argue. Menzie was in the kitchen with them.
Boyd repeatedly identified Menzie as the man who shot Harbin, her ex-boyfriend. Her hand was wounded in the shooting.
Prosecutors played two 911 calls made by Boyd, in which she hysterically tells dispatchers Harbin had been shot. She made two calls because her phone died, she said.
The children testified they awoke to the sound of gunshots in the early morning and saw their mother pushing Menzie, a relative on their father's side, out the front door as he held a handgun.
Boyd testified Menzie said just after the shooting that Harbin had put his hands on her.
Just before Menzie walked out the door, he turned to Boyd and said, "Don't say my name," she and her children testified.
The U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force tracked Menzie to Minnesota after the homicide but ultimately arrested him May 8, 2018, as he slept inside a residence in Chicago, authorities said. The murder weapon was never found.
Whether Menzie would go to trial was in question Monday, after he told Lake County Jail staff he was suicidal and jumped on a table to avoid corrections officers, officials said.
The jail's mental health director told Vasquez that Menzie had been on his radar but had never been held in the jail's mental health pod. He interviewed Menzie, and found the defendant to be at low risk for suicide, he said.
Menzie previously had claimed his food in the jail was being poisoned, but Vasquez ultimately told Menzie he knowingly decided to represent himself and the trial would move forward.
Fumbling through trial
Menzie repeatedly insisted on exercising his constitutional right to represent himself in the months leading up to trial. At one point, he accepted the help of a public defender on a standby basis, but fired his attorney weeks before trial.
In opening statements, he claimed he was representing himself because he was an "indigent" and said he was "broke."
Menzie often fumbled through questioning of witnesses, phrasing questions inappropriately and testifying or interjecting argument when it would not normally be permitted. Menzie's questions often were irrelevant, misleading or repetitive.
Vasquez repeatedly said he was giving Menzie a lot of leeway because he was pro se, but the judge also often sustained objections by Lake County Deputy Prosecutors Keith Anderson and Jonathan Soverly. Vasquez denied Anderson's request Wednesday for a mistrial, saying Menzie had opted to represent himself and they would deal with it.
Menzie repeatedly attempted to suggest, without evidence, that there was "a war and a battle" going on in the woman's Gary neighborhood before Harbin was killed. Vasquez, on prosecutors' objections, stopped him from asking questions about that allegation many times.
Boyd's teenage daughter appeared not to know her father's last name as Menzie questioned her. Boyd later testified the children saw their father, who is Menzie's cousin, only "once in a blue moon."
Menzie often focused on minor details, such as Lake County sheriff's Detective Kris Adams' signature on charging documents.
When Menzie on Friday moved to admit charging documents into evidence, Vasquez stopped the trial to warn Menzie — without jurors present — that he was about to show them he was facing additional penalties of which they were not yet informed. The information was not relevant, the judge said.
"In your submission, you included the enhancements," Vasquez said. "The jury has no idea there may be a second phase to this case."
Juries typically are not told about enhancements until after returning a verdict, because the information could be prejudicial to the defendant.
'He signed it'
Menzie said he was more concerned about Adams' signatures than the "content of the documents."
"It goes to impeachment of the detective," Menzie said.
Menzie questioned Adams, a member of the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit, about why his signatures appeared to be different on the documents.
Adams said he signed one paper with his badge number and department, but just signed his name to another paper.
Menzie asked if perhaps the detective didn't really sign one of the papers.
Adams said he might have been in a hurry, but that Menzie was incorrect and all of the signatures were his.
Menzie told Vasquez he wanted the documents admitted into evidence.
"If he didn't sign it, I wouldn't admit it into evidence," Menzie said. "But he signed it."
Vasquez granted Menzie's request after prosecutors said they didn't object.